Summer Under the Stars: Now, Voyager (1942)

TCM’s star of the day is Paul Henreid, and my film pick for the actor is Now, Voyager, which airs today at 8:00 P.M. (EST).

This romantic drama follows Boston spinster Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) who struggles with low self-esteem because of her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper). But after spending time in a sanitarium under the care of Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), her confidence grows, and she sets out on a South American cruise. While onboard, she meets the unhappily married Jeremiah “Jerry” Durrance (Paul Henreid), and the two begin a love affair before returning home.

Now, Voyager was adapted to the screen just a year after the novel was published under the same title. It was the third in a five-book series about the fictional Vale family by Olive Higgins Prouty, who also wrote the novel Stella Dallas nearly two decades prior. For her most popular story in the Vale saga, Prouty took the basis of her protagonist’s psychotherapy from her own experiences with the treatment, which was depicted fairly realistically for the time period. After Warner Bros. picked up the rights for the novel, producer Hal B. Wallis had a few big stars under consideration for the role of Charlotte Vale, with the top choices between Irene Dunne, Norma Shearer, and Ginger Rogers. But after hearing about the project, Bette Davis campaigned for the role, ultimately getting the part. Davis absorbed herself in the part, reading the original novel and working with costume designer Orry-Kelly to inform the character. The film proved to be a major success for the actress, as it became the biggest box office hit of her career, and she received her fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a row. Davis was surrounded by an excellent supporting cast, including Gladys Cooper (who was Oscar-nominated for her performance in the supporting category), Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid.

Along with Bette Davis’s central performance, her chemistry with her leading man was important to the film’s success, and she arguably found her best romantic screen partner in Paul Henreid. Working on Now, Voyager led to a decades-long friendship between Davis and Henreid, which resulted in a few other collaborations both in film and television. Just four years after Now, Voyager, they reunited with fellow co-star Claude Rains for Deception. While that ended up being their only other on-screen team-up, Henreid went on to direct Davis in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1959, as well as the 1964 thriller Dead Ringer, in which the actress played a pair of twins for the second time in her career. Their work together touched on the different capacities in which Henreid worked throughout his Hollywood career, from working in front of to behind the camera.

The year 1942 was a banner year for Paul Henreid, as it saw the release of his first three Hollywood films following his start in Europe. The first was Joan of Paris with RKO, and his other two films with Warner Bros. would be the ones he’s best remembered for today, Now, Voyager and Casablanca. After defining his screen persona that year as a debonnaire and cultured leading man, he went on to star opposite some of the most popular leading ladies of that decade, such as Ida Lupino, Eleanor Parker, Hedy Lamarr, Maureen O’Hara, Olivia de Havilland, and Katharine Hepburn. But then he was blacklisted from major studios for a few years because he protested House Committee on Un-American Activities, so for the 1948 film noir Hollow Triumph, he decided to try his hand at producing while also starring in the movie. His work behind the scenes on that film led him to his directorial debut on the 1952 film For Men Only, which he also starred and produced in. He directed a few other movies but found more directing work in television, which included helming nearly 30 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He worked steadily in both mediums through the 1970s, either as an actor or as a director. And for a career that spanned both the big screen and the small screen, Henreid has two stars on the Hollywood walk of fame, each for his work in movies and TV.

Paul Henreid’s scenes with Bette Davis are likely the most well-known moments from Now, Voyager, and his iconic act of lighting two cigarettes is especially among the most famous scenes from the old Hollywood period in general. The film is ranked at number 23 on AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Passions, the American Film Institute’s list of the top love stories in American cinema. It’d be remiss of me not to mention that Henreid’s other best-known film, Casablanca, topped that list (though his role in the film isn’t the one being recognized in this instance; I’ll add that I probably wouldn’t have hesitated to go on the plane with his Victor Laszlo). The back-to-back releases of Now, Voyager and Casablanca in 1942 helped immortalize Henreid into the Hollywood firmament, and with his roles in those iconic films and beyond, it’s not hard to see why he’s still beloved by classic movie fans today.

I wrote this as a part of the 2020 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the image below to read more posts!

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