Wow: another great Bette Davis performance. Actually, she’s two people–an anxious, bitter dependent of her domineering mom, and a sophisticated, alluring woman. It’s not that she grows into womanhood so much as reclaim it. In fact, it seems she was rather precocious, but her mom stifled very aspect of her personality, especially any sign of maturity and independence. Only an actress as gifted as Davis could convincingly pull off such rapid changes of character. In fact, her lover Jerry (Paul Henreid) marks her changeability by pointing out the butterfly motif of her dress.
It’s agonizing to watch her mother (Gladys Cooper). The doctor (Claude Raines) gives her a fine dressing-down, aptly blaming her for Charlotte’s (Davis’) weakness. Undoubtedly, he sees that it’s better for Charlotte to go to the sanitarium than remain under the thrall of her mom. Owing to the unexpected treat of the South American cruise, she meets the seemingly available Jerry. The plot subsequently takes a ‘voyage’ that encompasses their romance, with his daughter Tina (Yola d’Avril) as kind of a stowaway.
It’s never really explained what the deal is with Jerry’s wife; she’s off-screen, making her even more mysterious. There’s a rather forced parallel structure in which Tina ends up ‘escaping’ to the same sanitorium as Charlotte had ‘visited.’ Tina, however, seems about the best adjusted person to have this privilege. I think we’re to assume that her mom is a Mrs. Vale clone…thus the rather unconvincing worries that Tina goes on about. Also mystifying is the ease with which Charlotte is allowed to take Tina on an excursion to town. Sure, people were a lot more trusting in the ’40s than now; on the other hand, a former ‘guest’ of a sanitarium would probably have been treated more skeptically back then.
After Charlotte spurns Elliot, and particularly after her mom dies (of course it’s Charlotte’s fault, in a way), she’s rejuvenated. And available. That leads to the climactic scene at the Vale mansion, as Charlotte and Jerry try to figure out what they’re all about. The poetic quotes are a bit romance-novelish; but, it seems the result is that Tina has acquired a new mom. The two former ugly ducklings get together, thanks to the fairy prince. That’s fitting, it’s what we want to happen, etc…but does it add up? Has Jerry’s wife died? Did they get divorced? If not, Tina isn’t exactly Charlotte’s child–moon and the stars notwithstanding.
Ambiguity is a great thing in drama; and maybe I’m not understanding something, but it’s hard to tell if the ending is supposed to be ambiguous or not. It seems to indicate that the three of them consider themselves a family, and they obviously all love each other. It’s as though Charlotte’s wish to be Tina’s mom is agreed to–therefore it is. I’m too literal-minded to trust that scenario. Will they pretend to be a family, or be a family? (With some vile end in store for the unneeded wife/mom). My point is that there’s too many loose ends for the premise to work; this isn’t film noir, it’s straight drama.
Still, this is a very entertaining film. The music effectively establishes mood. Plenty of good characters to make use of the desperation and romance. Raines is great as the kindly and perceptive doctor; Dora’s (Mary Wicke’s) sarcastic asides to Mrs. Vale highlight the absurdity of the widow’s behavior. Elliott’s role, as the respectable non-entity is well-played by John Loder. Unfortunately, as others note, the cab driver is over-the-top stereotypical, and a complete distraction. Worth watching Now, Voyager because of Bette Davis, with some bonus plot holes. 8/10.