No Shy Violet, Let’s Middle Aisle It

You think your life sucks? Coke bottle glasses, out-of-date hairstyle and outfit, and oh those sensible shoes. Poor Charlotte Vale: unattractive, overweight, and a spinster on the verge of a nervous breakdown from the emotional and verbal abuse suffered under Mummy’s tyrannical thumb. Her blossoming at the hands of her psychiatrist and in the arms of a married man are the romantic seeds at the heart of NOW, VOYAGER (1942).

NOW, VOYAGER is one of the great romantic melodramas in the Warner Bros. canon. Bette Davis’ performance as Charlotte is one of her best, as are the supporting performances of Gladys Cooper as Davis’ imperious mother, Claude Rains as her shrink, and Paul Henreid as her lover. But this is Davis’ show.

If you’re looking for the “typical” Max Steiner score, this is it–lush, passionate melodies, heavy on the strings, and wall-to-wall music. As for the often carped about wall-to-wall complaint, when the music is this good, who cares?

The most famous melody in the score is the love theme, first heard when Charlotte meets Jerry (Henreid) aboard the ship. It’s pure Steiner all the way–sweeping, tender, and unapologetically romantic. The melody was so popular that in 1943 lyrics were added by Kim Gannon and turned into the hit song, “It Can’t Be Wrong.” The recording by Dick Haymes went to #1 and stayed on the charts for 19 weeks. The song was later covered by such diverse artists as Ivy Benson and Her All Girls Band and Frank Sinatra. Steiner re-used the popular theme in MILDRED PIERCE (1945).

This is one of Steiner’s finest scores, and it richly deserved its Academy Award. Even with some other fine nominees in the mix, such as Miklos Rozsa’s THE JUNGLE BOOK and Alfred Newman’s THE BLACK SWAN, nobody could hold a candle–or a cigarette–to Steiner’s memorable score.

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