Now, Voyager is a 1942 American drama film starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains, and directed by Irving Rapper. The screenplay by Casey Robinson is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty.
In 2007, Now, Voyager was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The film ranks #23 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions, a list of the top love stories in American cinema. Film critic Steven Jay Schneider suggests the film continues to be popular due not only to its star power but also the “emotional crescendos” engendered in the storyline. The film had a cameo appearance during the theatre scene in the movie Summer of ’42.
Drab Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is an unattractive, overweight, repressed spinster whose life is brutally dominated by her dictatorial mother (Gladys Cooper), an aristocratic Boston dowager whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to the woman’s complete lack of self-confidence. It is revealed that Mrs. Vale had already brought up three sons, and Charlotte was an unwanted child born to her late in life. Fearing Charlotte is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her sister-in-law Lisa (Ilka Chase) introduces her to psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), who recommends she spend time in his sanitarium.
Away from her mother’s control, Charlotte blossoms. The transformed woman, at Lisa’s urging, opts to take a lengthy cruise rather than immediately return home. On board ship, she meets a married man, Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance (Paul Henreid), who is traveling with his friends Deb (Lee Patrick) and Frank McIntyre (James Rennie). It is from them that Charlotte learns of Jerry’s devotion to his young daughter, Christine (“Tina”), and how it keeps him from divorcing his wife, a manipulative, jealous woman who does not love Tina, and who keeps Jerry from engaging in his chosen career of architecture, despite the fulfillment he gets from it.
Charlotte and Jerry become friendly, and in Rio de Janeiro the two are stranded on Sugarloaf Mountain when their car crashes. They miss the ship and spend five days together before Charlotte flies to Buenos Aires to rejoin the cruise. Although they have fallen in love, they decide it would be best not to see each other again.
When she arrives home, Charlotte’s family is stunned by the dramatic changes in her appearance and demeanor. Her mother is determined to once again destroy her daughter, but Charlotte is resolved to remain independent. The memory of Jerry’s love and devotion help to give her the strength she needs to remain resolute.
Charlotte becomes engaged to wealthy, well-connected widower Elliot Livingston (John Loder), but after a chance meeting with Jerry, she breaks off the engagement, about which she quarrels with her mother. During the argument, Charlotte says she didn’t ask to be born, that her mother never wanted her, that it’s “been a calamity on both sides.” Mrs. Vale is so shocked that her once-mousey daughter has found the courage to actually talk back to her, she has a heart attack and dies. Guilty and distraught, Charlotte returns to the sanatarium.
When she arrives at the sanitarium, she is immediately diverted from her own problems when she meets Jerry’s daughter, lonely, unhappy Tina (Janis Wilson), age 12, who greatly reminds her of herself and has been sent to Dr. Jaquith; both were unwanted and unloved by their mothers. She is shaken out of her depression and instead becomes overly interested in Tina’s welfare. With Dr. Jaquith’s permission she takes the girl under her wing. When she improves, Charlotte takes her home to Boston.
Jerry and Dr. Jaquith visit the Vale home, where Jerry is delighted to see the changes in his daughter. While he initially pities Charlotte, believing her to be settling in her life, he’s taken aback by her contempt for his initial condescension. Dr. Jaquith has agreed to allow Charlotte to keep Tina there with the understanding that her relationship with Jerry will remain platonic. She tells Jerry that she sees Tina as his gift to her and her way of being close to him. When Jerry asks her if she’s happy, Charlotte finds much to value in her life and if it isn’t everything she would want, tells him, “Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars,” a line ranked #46 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotes in American