Monday, February 1, 2010


Watched this the other night on TCM. I know I saw it decades ago in a revival house and thought I'd seen it other times on TV, but besides the famous final scene where Paul Henried lights two cigarettes and gives one to Bette Davis and they look out at the stars (as I remember it, though this time I saw they were actually looking at each other and we, the audience through the camera's point of view look out at the stars), and the earlier one where Davis is made up like the old maid she's playing—all hairy eyebrows and dumpy outfits in the first few scenes—the entire movie in between was like a revelation. I didn't remember a thing!

Don't know if that's because of the brain surgery I had over two months ago now, or if I wouldn't have remember anything about the movie but the opening and closing scenes anyway.

And watching what seemed like a movie I'd never seen before, one thing that struck me was how odd Bette Davis looked, even when the character she was playing was supposed to have been transformed into a great beauty. The Hollywood makeover worked in terms of contrast with her earlier look, but in some scenes Davis just looked odd, not oddly beautiful or uniquely beautiful, but strange, not someone you would expect to be starring in romantic movies.

It also struck me how emotionally manipulative the movie was, in the fashion of what were called "women's movies" back then. But along with the predictable tropes of that genre, I was also surprised by how unusual and original the story was in many ways. And deep. Yes, some of the conventions of the time that it incorporates might seem unrealistic now, but actually most of the plot points and turns in the story are deeply realistic I thought, within the bounds of the time and place the story is set in.

In the end, the tension between what was so familiar from old Hollywood flicks and what was so original in this one, including Davis's always eccentric and unique acting mannerisms and character embellishments made NOW VOYAGER almost surreal and as adventurous and unexpected at times as anything out there today.

And hey, the fact that the title comes from Walt Whitman is pretty cool too. I knew that.


Anonymous said...

Dear M:

Hey I watched this too on TCM the other day! And I almost never watch old movies anymore. But it was indeed great fun. Except I couldn't believe the way it ended---a big dose of non-consummation there.

Tore Claesson said...

wanted to order hollywood magic but the link doesn't work...or is it out of print?

Lally said...

HOLLYWOOD MAGIC is long out of print Torre. You can probably find a used one somewhere on the internet.

TPW: Talk about delayed gratification!

Curtis Faville said...

Davis purportedly was the subject of a large piece of garden sculpture (done while she was a teenager--in New England), a stunning, perfect nude.

That changed my apprehension of her somewhat, since my sense, as a child growing up in the 1950's and 1960's was of a rancid old red-headed bitch spitting out vituperation. It didn't help that the mother of one our family's best-friends couple not only looked like her, but was a full-blown alcoholic who was cruel to her many children.

Davis's career before 1950 was impressive. But the independence which this gave her did not, in my opinion, help her career. The desire to play only "strong" characters and to have creative control and/or the freedom to act out on sets etc., didn't help--it only made her seem impulsive and rude. Then, of course, she began to assume the part she had created, and became another "dear Mommie" in real life. All very sad.

Her best asset was her voice.

I never found her sexually attractive, or even interesting. Someone to be avoided.