NOW VOYAGER – Max Steiner
Original Review by Craig Lysy
Now Voyager was unusual in that it was perhaps a film before its time, the first woman’s film, what we would describe today in the vernacular as a “Chick Flick.” Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) suffers under a cruel and tyrannical mother (Gladys Cooper) until a nervous breakdown sends her to a sanatorium. A kind physician (Claude Rains) heals her psychic wounds and we witness Charlotte reborn. She begins her new life with a Latin American cruise where she at last discovers love, with the unhappily married Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid). Their love and attraction is real, but they are reconciled to their fates. Charlotte leaves the cruise a stronger woman, and we retain hope that some day the two will reunite. It turns out that they do, through Jerry’s daughter Tina whom Charlotte helps heal, and in so doing, heals herself. The film was a critical success and firmly cemented Davis as the star of her day.
For Now Voyager, Steiner was presented with a tapestry well suited to his melodramatic style. He understood that he had to capture the long suffering and wounded spirit of Charlotte, celebrate her healing and rebirth, and lastly, her bittersweet romance. He responded with perhaps one of his finest career efforts. Steiner provides romantic lyricism of the highest order, creating one of his most evocative and inspired love themes of his career. There are eight primary themes, but what is remarkable is that five are kindred and interconnected. The themes for Charlotte, The Gift and Jerry offer extended and more elaborate versions of the Mother and Tina themes. Steiner thus reveals his understanding of the film’s narrative – Charlotte’s evolution and transition from daughter, to adult woman, to mother. The static 6/8 rhythmic Mother Theme informs us of her pain and initiates her journey, while the more rhythmic ¾ meter and hopeful Tina Theme offers its resolution.
The love theme also stands as one of his most unusual and complex, in that he infused it with uncharacteristic harmonics, which shift to and fro. So well received was its melody that singer Dick Haymes transformed it into the song “It Can’t Be Wrong”, which soared and remained on the popular music charts for an amazing nineteen weeks. Steiner’s love theme melody over the years became iconic and timeless, firmly embedded into the collective consciousness of America.
Tragically, there is no commercial CD or digital release of this score! If ever there was a project, which demanded the restorative skills of masters William Stromberg and John Morgan, this is it! Until that day we must be content with Charles Gerhardt’s wonderful suite, which appears on the CD “Now Voyager: The Classic Film Scores of Max Steiner”, released on the RCA label alongside music from other films such as King Kong, Saratoga Trunk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Four Wives, The Big Sleep, Johnny Belinda, Since You Went Away, The Informer, and The Fountainhead.
For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link of Gerhardt’s suite, which offers Steiner’s wondrous love theme in all its sumptuous glory. The construct of the suite is: Warner Brothers Fanfare, Main Title, Love Scene and Finale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3jrPmMp7v8
Buy the Now Voyager soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Now, Voyager (5:51)
- King Kong (7:16)
- Saratoga Trunk (2:30)
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (2:37)
- Four Wives (8:06)
- The Big Sleep (7:03)
- Johnny Belinda (5:05)
- Since You Went Away (1:25)
- The Informer (4:33)
- The Fountainhead (8:07)
Running Time: 52 minutes 33 seconds
RCA Victor 0136-2-RG (1942)
Music composed by Max Steiner. Conducted by Charles Gerhardt. Performed by The National Philharmonic Orchestra. Score produced by Max Steiner. Album produced by George Korngold.