Now, Voyager [1942]

Director: Irving Rapper
Stars: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper, Bonita Granville
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 117 minutes

Even in the 21st century, very few film stars create and define their own genre--and certainly not in the complete way Bette Davis did. The Bette Davis Collection gives an exceptionally good survey of essential Bette, with four of the five films absolute knock-down classics from her long reign at Warner Bros. Davis's personality was so strong that she tended to overpower her directors, but William Wyler was one of the few to maintain his own distinctive style with her, and The Letter (1940) is a triumph for both of them. At a humid Malaysian plantation, Davis kills a man in the brilliant opening sequence, and the remainder is a darkly suggestive unraveling of the complicated explanation. Dark Victory (1939) and Now, Voyager (1942) would be on anybody's list of most representative Davis pictures. In the former, she's a doomed heiress nobly losing her eyesight, a multiple-handkerchief situation that proved one of her biggest hits. Voyager allows Davis one of her favored techniques (appearing frumpy for at least part of her performance) as a mother-dominated spinster who comes out of her shell. Her match with Paul Henreid--and the music of Max Steiner--turns this into one luscious melodrama. If Mr. Skeffington (1944) is not as celebrated as those films, it is nevertheless a characteristic Warners work-out. Davis wasn't shy about playing unsympathetic roles, and Fanny Skeffington--vain, selfish, married for practicality--is an exasperating tour de force. She gets good support from Claude Rains as the sensible, adoring husband. The Star (1952) is no classic, but its Pirandellian aspects will appeal to the actress's fans: Bette plays a washed-up Oscar-winning star desperate to get herself back in the public eye (think if it as a less witty postscript to All About Eve). There's some hint the main character is modeled more on Joan Crawford than Bette herself, in which case Davis must have loved playing it. Extras are modest, with short featurettes giving background on three of the discs, and director Vincent Sherman providing commentary for Mr. Skeffington. But the films themselves, and their neurotically intense star, are quite capable of standing alone. --Robert Horton

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