Or: THE Coolest Way to Light Her Cigarette
Now, Voyager, released in 1942, is one of the most memorable in a long list of memorable films starring Bette Davis, with possibly the least memorable punctuation mark ever to appear in a title.
And those are just the principals. There's a whole slew of uncredited players, when people were a lot less bothered about that sort of thing.
Henreid and Rains hung around together on Casablanca as well, which was released the same year. You won't know Henreid from much else, though he was in thirty-two films afterwards. Rains went on to play in a few other big hitters, including Lawrence of Arabia, but popularly he largely remains the guy from Casablanca.
Bette Davis, is, of course, Bette Davis.
Behind the Scenes
This was back in the days when you could rely on the studio system in Hollywood to provide you with everything you needed, including a stable of actors, directors, producers, and crew. For this little gem we have Warner Brothers to thank, and we do, gladly.
- Hal B. Wallis, prolific producer with 267 other films to his credit.
- Irving Rapper, director, who never did better
- Casey Robinson, writer, who adapted it for the screen
- Olive Higgins Prouty, author, who gave Casey Robinson something to adapt
- Sol Polito, cinematographer, who put it all on film
- Warren Low, editor, who stuck all the film together
Bette Davis is Charlotte Vale, frumpy daughter of Boston socialite Gladys Cooper, who domineers her in the way that only a rich, thin-lipped mother can, or would. There are flashbacks of an ocean romance with ship's officer Leslie Trotter that Mommy-dearest sends straight to the bottom, and enough demeaning, slanderous venom from Cooper's wicked tongue to send anyone into a fit. She even denies her daughter the right to the nervous breakdown that she causes in her.
The means by which Charlotte is kept in line are fairly severe, and sometimes melodramatic. Bear in mind when you watch it that it was 1942, and people hadn't seen everything, yet.
Charlotte goes Cinderella after Jaquith shows up and steals her away to a sanitarium in Vermont, following the nervous breakdown Charlotte has despite her mother's disapproval. In several excellent sections of the film, the Doctor lays the blame for Charlotte's destroyed life squarely on the shoulders of her mother. I give you:
Jaquith: My dear Mrs. Vale, if you had deliberately and maliciously planned to destroy your daughter's life, you couldn't have done it more completely.
Mrs. V takes it practically as a compliment. It is not for the doctor to settle the score.
Following treatment, Charlotte comes out strong, confident, elegant, and above all, independent, much to the doctor's joy and, as we will see, her mother's chagrin. But first there is the matter of an unrequited shipboard romance.
A newly clothed and coiffured Charlotte--under the name of Miss Beauchamps, a passenger that missed the boat--catches the eye of swarthy European Jeremiah Durrance--our man Henreid. He's suave, sophisticated, and already married--with extenuating circumstances.
The two generate a little tension between them, as you'd expect, and we get the foreboding knowledge of his having a wife and two teenage daughters--one of which is sixteen and (hey ho!) bears an uncanny resemblance to Charlotte's former self. Their romance grows, and the cigarette lighting ceremony takes on an increasingly sexual subtext. More on that later.
The cruise ends, and Charlotte has to go present herself to Mumsy, which she hasn't done since emerging from the sanitarium. Once home, her Mother snaps straight back into old habits, which Charlotte tolerates as best she can. For a while. A new love interest shows up, but Charlotte's not interested, and then of course good 'ole Jerry comes strolling up the front walk.
Don't get your hopes up--he's still married. And Charlotte has an episode with her mother that initiates a relapse and sends her back to Dr. Jaquith at the sanitarium, whereat she meets--(ho hey!) Durrance's depressive daughter. They strike up a relationship, each helping the other, and Charlotte manages to step out again.
I'm not going to ruin the plot resolutions for you--go see the film.
What's Not Cool about It
In places, a few of the plot devices don't quite ring true, and a few of the loose ends do get tied up in rather incredible and uncomfortable ways.
To the modern sensibility, some characterizations are nothing less than two-dimensional. There's a measure of subtext, fair enough--but sometimes a little light on the sub.
A few of Charlotte's voice-overs are just this side of corny.
What's Cool about It
Everything else. The on-screen performances are fantastic
across the board, and even Durrance's daughter is only slightly irritating
The construction of the film is good old-fashioned solid craftmanship--the blocking, cinematography, and editing all pull their weight in creating meaning relevant to the story.
The dialogue is EXCELLENT. There are some sharp moments in the script, which generally has a cast of intelligent characters saying intelligent things. Always a pleasure to listen to.
The memorable moments work in exactly the way they are supposed to--perfect for the film they are in, and in many ways what you have come to expect from films of the era. And I of course don't want to spoil the ending--but it's got one of those film-ending lines that if you've gone along with the story, will leave you satisfied.
Also--this is a World War II era film. Worth noting that it portrays a woman who goes from being dependent and demure to strong and assertive. It also makes it OK for a woman to be alone, which many women would find themselves to be during that year and possibly those that followed. America needed strong women--it got Bette Davis.
That Cigarette Thing
In what is often recounted as an improvised gesture on the part of Henreid--though it may not have been--he takes two cigarettes, puts them both in his mouth, lights them, and hands one back to Charlotte.
But the way he does it is very, very, smooth.
I certainly wouldn't recommend trying it on a stranger--which in these strange times is just a little sleazy--but I did once at a bar with a friend of mine, and the bartender picked out the reference straight away.
That sort of ruined the moment, but there you are. Suppose I didn't deserve to get away with it anyway. Regardless, the scene in which he first does it caused a stir at the time--sex and cigarettes still enjoying a new notoriety--and remains a damn fine bit of business today.
Now, Voyager comes fully loaded with great lines, great shots, and hey--Bette Davis. It's one of what they call 'the Classics.'
Go see it.
for the Quest