Now, Voyager is one of the great romantic melodramas in the Warner Brothers’ canon and features a classic Bette Davis performance. Davis stars as Charlotte Vale, a Boston spinster under her mother’s tyrannical thumb (the imperious Gladys George), who blossoms under the tutelage of psychiatrist Claude Rains and finds love with married man Paul Henreid.
The performances are uniformly excellent but you won’t be able to take your eyes off of Bette. Anchoring the shipboard romance is Max Steiner’s lush, passionate score.
If you’re looking for the “typical” Steiner sound, this score is it: dramatic strings, memorable melodies, and wall-to-wall music. As for the often carped about wall-to-wall comment, when the music is this good, it’s hard to take it to task. Without someone like Steiner at the podium, the drama and romance wouldn’t have been half as effective.
The theme for Jerry’s daughter is sweet and innocent. Steiner gives the score a hint of Latin flavor as Charlotte and Jerry land in Rio de Janeiro.
But 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. And who can forget that final scene as Charlotte and Jerry light one last double cigarette and Steiner goes for the tear ducts one last time with that memorable theme.
The tune 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 nineteen weeks. The song was later covered by such diverse artists as Ivy Benson and Her All Girls Band and even Frank Sinatra. Three years later, Steiner used the popular theme again in Mildred Pierce.
Film Music Notes praised the score as “beautfiul from the very outset…Once again Steiner assists the mood and dramatic intent by giving this picture a symphonic musical background of impressive strength.”
Now, Voyager is one of Steiner’s finest scores. 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 this year.