Now, Bette: A glittering, slushy take on the ugly duckling transformation. It's Olive Higgins Prouty, at it again (she also penned Stella Dallas, the durable soap opera from which three films, including the Barbara Stanwyck classic, were made), with a title lifted from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a conceit enough to raise a dead poet. Irving Rapper directs as if he wants to stay out of the way of Davis and Cooper--perfectly understandable.
As usual, Davis has to overplay her hand at Jekyll/Hyde transformation. Beforehand, she's got unplucked eyebrows like last spring's dead caterpillars, hair like a mudpuddle with a net over it, and glasses and shoes borrowed from the first continental congress. It sets a satisfyingly camp feeling
of self-sacrifice over the entire proceedings. Later she is artfully styled; you have the feeling Davis is shedding her own New England repression, which is exactly what she means for you to feel.
Davis plays the dowdy, frustrated daughter of Cooper, with whom she lives in their oppressive Boston mansion. Davis is close to a nervous breakdown because she can't get any love from Cooper, who also forces her to dress "sensibly." Chase, Davis's sister-in-law, worries about Davis's mental
condition and enlists the services of famed psychiatrist Rains, who sees that Davis is near collapse and recommends that she leave her lonely home and take refuge at his sanitarium. There, Davis begins a regimen that begins to restore her mental and physical health; she drops pounds and gains
confidence daily, transforming into a self-assured swan within three months (a feat none of us can seem to master so quickly). At Rains's suggestion, Davis boards a liner for South America. On the cruise, she meets Henreid, whose wife pretends to be in bad health to keep her unhappy husband from
ending their marriage. On a stopover in Rio, Davis and Henreid enjoy a wonderful day and night together, then wake up to discover that their ship has already left the port. They stay in Rio for a few days and Davis experiences passionate love for the first time in her life, although she
understands from the start that Henreid will never leave his wife.
Though VOYAGER is best remembered for the scene in which Henreid lights two cigarettes simultaneously and then hands one to Davis, this pleasurable, popular tearjerker is Davis's show all the way. She claimed to have worked extensively on the screenplay, deleting some of Casey Robinson's hard work
in favor of Prouty's original words. Cooper is an excellent choice for the matriarchal dowager; Davis always stood in awe (or angry envy) of stage actors, and their scenes have a weight the rest of the picture lacks. Henreid and Rains, both great friends of Davis's (and supposedly Rains was a
lover) contribute smooth work. The marvelous Ilka Chase is wasted here, and Bonita Granville is grating. The Polito camerawork finally settles down to Davis-devotion and Steiner's Oscar-winning score clings to her like flypaper. It's Grade-A schlock, but not without depth: critics have detected
feminist overtones in this movie, one in which men prove eminently dispensable in the quest for happiness.
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: Now, Bette: A glittering, slushy take on the ugly duckling transformation. It's Olive Higgins Prouty, at it again (she also penned Stella Dallas, the durable soap opera from which three films, including the Barbara Stanwyck classic, were made), with a titl… (more)