Now, Voyager (1942) was directed by Irving Rapper. The screenplay by Casey Robinson is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty, who borrowed her title from a line in the Walt Whitman poem "The Untold Want," which reads in its entirety, "The untold want by life and land ne'er granted, / Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find." Bette Davis portrayal garnered her an Academy Award nomination, and the film continues to be popular not only due to its star power but also the "emotional crescendos" engendered in the storyline.
Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) is an unattractive, overweight, repressed spinster whose life is dominated by her dictatorial mother (Gladys Cooper), an aristocratic Boston dowager whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to the woman's complete lack of self-confidence. Fearing Charlotte is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her sister-in-law Lisa introduces her to psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), who recommends she spend time in his sanatorium.
Away from her mother's control, Charlotte blossoms, and the transformed woman opts to take a lengthy cruise rather than immediately return home. On board ship, she meets married Jeremiah Duvaux Durrance (Paul Henreid), who is traveling with his friends Deb and Frank McIntyre, from whom Charlotte learns Jerry's devotion to his young daughter Tina keeps him from divorcing his wife, who is a manipulative, jealous woman who keeps Jerry from engaging in his chosen career of architecture, despite the fulfillment he gets from it. Charlotte and Jerry become friendly, and in Rio de Janeiro the two are stranded on Sugarloaf Mountain when the car in which they are touring crashes. They miss the ship and spend five days together before Charlotte flies to Buenos Aires to rejoin the cruise. Although they have fallen in love, they decide it would be best not to see each other again.
When she arrives home, Charlotte's family is stunned by the dramatic changes in her appearance and demeanor. Her mother is determined to regain control over her daughter, but Charlotte is resolved to remain independent while forging a better relationship with her mother. The memory of Jerry's love and devotion help to give her the strength she needs to remain resolute. She becomes engaged to wealthy, well-connected widower Elliot Livingston, but after a chance meeting with Jerry, she breaks off the engagement, about which she quarrels with her mother. In the midst of the quarrel, her mother becomes so angry that she has a heart attack and dies. Guilty and distraught, Charlotte returns to the sanatorium, where she is shaken out of her depression when she meets lonely, unhappy Tina, who greatly reminds her of herself—both were unwanted and unloved by their mothers. She becomes interested in her welfare and with Dr. Jaquith's permission takes the girl under her wing. When she improves, Charlotte takes her home to Boston with her.
Jerry and Dr. Jaquith visit the Vale home, and Jerry is delighted to see the changes in his daughter. Dr. Jaquith has agreed to allow Charlotte to keep Tina with her with the understanding that her relationship with Jerry will remain platonic. She tells Jerry that she sees Tina as his gift to her and her way of being close to him. When Jerry asks her if she's happy, Charlotte responds, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon... we have the stars," a line ranked #46 in the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movie quotes in American cinema.
For years, Davis and co-star Paul Henreid claimed the scenes in which Jerry puts two cigarettes in his mouth, lights both, then passes one to Charlotte, was developed by them during rehearsals, inspired by a habit Henreid shared with his wife, but drafts of Casey Robinson's script on file at the University of Southern California indicate it was included by the screenwriter in his original script. The scene remained an indelible trademark that Davis later would exploit as 'hers'.