Monday, August 15, 2011

Movies You Might Have Missed Monday

If asked to name one iconic actress from the classic beginnings of film, Bette Davis would no doubt make the list. Before I’d seen one movie in which she stars, I knew her name. So when I began this quest to explore the greats, I had to check her out.

One of the first ones I watched was from 1942, Now, Voyager. It’s a strange title, but taken purposefully from a Walt Whitman poem that becomes important to the main character, Charlotte Vale, played by Bette Davis.

At first glance, Bette Davis is no beauty. Her too large eyes and uneven teeth don’t leave an immediate pleasing impression, but as her talent outshines everything else she mesmerizes. Like watching a sunrise, you realize suddenly that she’s stunning.

Miss Vale is a young woman, adult but treated like a child by her controlling, elderly mother. Mrs. Vale tells her daughter what to wear, what to eat, what to do, all while berating her for shortcomings and failures. It’s driving Charlotte to a nervous breakdown.

Thanks to the intervention of a compassionate sister-in-law who introduces Charlotte to a psychiatrist, played by Claude Rains, help arrives. The good doctor convinces old Mrs. Vale to let Charlotte come to his sanitarium.

Months away from her tyrannical mother does wonders, but Charlotte is terrified to go home. With the help of her sister-in-law and the doctor, she goes on a cruise instead for a little extra time to herself. She meets Jerry, played by Paul Henreid, and for the first time feels appreciated. Problem is, Jerry’s married. Not happily, but he’s determined to stay true to his wife. His heart betrays him, however, and he and Charlotte embark on an emotional affair of words and declarations of love.

Still, though parted, Charlotte finds courage to face and stand up to her mother. She even grows enough to impart help to someone else, because, as she explains, someone else had helped her when she needed it most.

While not demonstrating the purest of intentions as far as marital fidelity is concerned (emotional affairs are dangerous too), I still like this story for many reasons. We’re all made to love and be loved. When the heart is a vacuum due to the withholding of love, especially in a parent/child relationship, the human life is deteriorated and scarred. One word of affection can change all that. Charlotte blooms into her own person once she’s set free from her mother’s control and encounters gentleness, but she also continues to serve her mother when she comes back while still holding on to her new self, showing a great deal of forgiveness and mercy to what some may determine an undeserving, bitter old hag. Charlotte also extends this mercy to Jerry’s daughter, Tina, who has grown up in much the same way as Charlotte did with an unloving mother. It’s really a movie about the power of kindness.

Now, Voyager is the perfect canvas for all the drama and unrequited romance of classic era film. It showcases Bette Davis brilliantly, for which she garnered one of her eleven Oscar nominations, and gives us a shining answer to the question: why was Bette Davis a star?

Happy Movie Watching, Dry Ground friends!

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