Saturday, March 31, 2007

"Please try to remember we're hardly commercial travellers..."

(Glamorous spoilers ahead!!)

After spending the morning being blown around Clapham in sunshine and high winds, I came home, cooked lunch, and fell onto the sofa just as the wonderful Now, Voyager was starting.

I haven't seen it since studying it as part of a Uni course, NINE YEARS AGO. But it was a glorious few hours in monochrome. It's a complete piece of WWII propaganda, designed to reinforce some slightly dodgy messages around home and family to women while the blokes are off fighting johnny foreigner, and some decidedly dubious morality - a man almost literally gives away his daughter to his lover.

But who cares!? It's fabulous! Not least because Bette Davis spends the first twenty minutes of the film in full Ugly Betty-style frumpiness as spinster aunt, Charlotte Vale:

I mean, I know she is supposed be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, thanks to her overly oppressive mother, but still. Those eyebrows. Wow.

Luckily the audience knows she's not really Charlotte Vale. Really she's Bette Davis in a lumpy dress, which everyone knows is bound to be replaced with something svelte and lovely pretty damn quickly.

And to be fair, even as Almost Mad Aunt Vale she still manages to make the bitter clipped dialogue sound downright flirty. She clearly has the hots for the kind psychiatrist who takes an interest in her. "I think you're the least clumsy person I've ever met," she whispers from behind several inches of spectacles, before going back to dementedly carving ivory boxes in her bedroom.

Luckily, it's not long before she breaks out of her opulent film set of a home, and the 1940's glamour is cranked up several notches:

Apparently the best way to avoid a complete breakdown is to embark on an exotic round the world cruise by oneself. This was before the NHS. And it's not long before Our Bette is attracting all sorts of attention, although she's still doubting her team of make-up artists at this point:

Smooth-But-Troubled Man: "You made a striking figure by the door, looking for me."
Our Bette: "I probably put on too much lipstick."

That's what happens when a girl gets a bit happy with the Maybelline Nuclear Fission range of cosmetics ("Maybe she's born with it! Maybve it's Flunitrazepam!").

Clearly the scripwriters had enormous fun, and there are some quite shocking lines, including a reference to high-class abortion. Sex is never far off the agenda (much like the full string-backed orchestra, constantly just out of frame):

"Well, I'm not going to struggle with you."
"Who knows what sort of primal instincts you might arouse."

OOOOOOOOOHHHH! HE MEANS SEXING!! Mind you, even simple things like lighting a cigarette become fraught with meaning. Bette chuffs her way through Capstan Full Strengths for most of the movie, but never once sparks up her own (I suppose it's difficult when you're forever in gloves). She has but to wave her hand towards her handbag and about three Real Men do that thing of lighting two cigarettes at once and giving one to 'The Woman'. I'm sure they must have lost some footage of chaps competing at this - "Look! Look! I can light seventeen cigars at once! PLEASE LET ME LIGHT YOUR CIGARETTE!!"

But the glamour of it all is amazing. Spinster aunts in disguise. Exotic locations. Car crashes. And the HATS! How did women travel with less than fourteen types of hat, all requiring hat pins inserted through several layers of lacquered hair and straight into the skull!??

Eventually, Our Bette gets back from cruising (sshh at the back) and confronts Mother Dearest:

"I didn't want to be born! You didn't want me to be born! It's been a calamity on both sides!"

She stomps around her mother's bedroom. As their manor is rather roomy, she is able to get out several lines of cracking dialogue in the time it takes to cross the room and come back. Which is lucky, because when she finally makes it back to the dresser she discovers her mother croaked it at the first 'born'.

Unsuprisingly, this sets back Our Bette's recovery a touch. Only now she is able to dispatch herself off to the sanitorium, with the full set of hats, scarves, gloves and evening wear, of course. And not a little determination:

"I thought you came up here to have a nervous breakdown?"
"Well I've decided not to have one."

I shouldn't mock it though. Despite all the outdated fantasy and politics, I still think the film has one of the all time best melodramatic closing lines, as the whole thing shudders to a very untypical end that is neither traditional, neat, nor tidy, but all the better for it:

"Oh Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon, we have the stars..."

Mind you, it only works if you forget that on the other side of the library doors the rest of the uber-rich Bostonian clan are roasting weenies over the living room fire with the psychiatrist.

Even more fabulously, these days there is a gay and lesbian travel service called,Now, Voyafger.

Take ten bonus points for being brilliant. And someone telephone my milliner!


Doris said...

God, I love that film! I didn't even know it was on (though I had to work this afternoon - could have used magic telly I suppose, to record it). Bette Davis is superb.

rhino75 said...

Completely and fabulously glam. And I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one who still employs a milliner (in my imagination, anyway)

Old Cheeser said...

Great movie and great review Boz! Are you a homosexual by any chance?

My own personal BD favourite is "All About Eve." "Fasten your's going to be a bumpy night."

Boz said...

What? And straight peoples can't appreciate the films of Ms Davis..?

Yeah. Fair cop.