Those of you who are my friends know that I am a classic movie fan. I love old movies and can recite lines from many famous scenes. When the present time is just too much for me, when I'm frustrated by the world, chaos and tragedy, the perfect escape is something on Turner Classic Movies in black and white, starring Joan Crawford, Cary Grant or Bette Davis. Even though these movies presented some harsh realities, they did it in a way that wasn't as jarring as modern movies. I get the same message, someone has been killed with a gunshot, without having to see half a skull blown away or blood and brain splatter on the walls.
I know a lot of classic movie trivia. I have a friend who once tried out for "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" He told me if he made it on the show and got a classic movie question, I would be his "phone a friend" choice. I could do it, as long as it was a movie made before 1960; things started getting a little too real about then. If pressed to choose my favorite movie classic, I'd have to say "Now, Voyager." Made in 1942, it starred Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and Gladys Cooper.
Bette Davis plays a spinster in her mid-30's, Charlotte Vale, who has a psychological breakdown due to the mental and verbal abuse and domination of her wealthy widowed mother, played with chilling evil by Gladys Cooper. Over her mother's protests, Charlotte is admitted to a private mental hospital, more like a luxury mountain resort, under the care of Dr. Jaquith, (Claude Rains, Davis' favorite co-star.) Psychotherapy, encouragement and kindness change Charlotte's life and Dr. Jaquith sends her back home armed with Walt Whitman's words, "Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find." She takes them literally, deciding to go on a cruise to South America to bolster her courage to go home and face her gorgon of a mother. On the cruise she meets and falls in love with Paul Henreid, playing an unhappily married man named Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance. Could there be a more romantic name, especially one spoken with Paul Henreid's enchanting accent?
This is what Charlotte looked like on her way to the looney bin:
And this is what she looked like on the day she re-enters the world and goes sightseeing with Jerry. The scene where she steps onto the gangway and lifts her head so you can see how perfectly beautiful she is, from the top of her wide-brimmed sun hat, down her impeccably-tailored suit, to the tips of her peek-a-boo spectator pumps, is one of my all-time favorites. It takes my breath every time.
Cigarettes abound in this movie, playing a major role and, of course, all kinds of drama ensues. Charlotte and Jerry are madly in love but realize they can never be together. They decide to never see each other again and Charlotte goes home. Yet Jerry has fresh camellias delivered to her every day, to remind her of his pet name for her, Camille, and of his love. (Violins here.) Armed with flowers and dressed in a gorgeous designer gown, Charlotte finally has the courage to tell off her awful mother, which causes her to have a stroke and die, sending Charlotte straight back to Dr. Jacquith. There she meets a young girl, Tina, who is there because she has suffered at the hands of her terrible mother, much like Charlotte has. Turns out Tina is Jerry's daughter and Charlotte takes her under her wing, giving her love and attention. She gets permission (!) to take her on a camping trip and then brings the girl home to live with her. Jerry comes to see them and agrees to let Tina live with Charlotte for Tina's sake and also so that he can pretend that he and Charlotte are raising her together.
Then, here it comes, the most famous cigarette scene ever. Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes, gives one to Davis and they smoke them together, as the camera focuses on her limpid eyes and the music swells to a climax.
"Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." Melodrama at it's finest. "Now, Voyager." It may be old, but it's never old.
Thanks for stopping by today.