Sunday, February 9, 2014

Between Two Worlds (1944)

Director: Edward A. Blatt                                   Writer: Daniel Fuchs
Film Score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold                  Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Starring: John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Edmund Gwen and Sydney Greenstreet

A group of passengers being ferried across the River Styx, all to the accompaniment of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s piano music. That’s the premise for Warner Brothers’ Between Two Worlds. In this case the boat is an ocean liner, and the passengers are on their way from England to America . . . or at least they were. Their steward on the passage is the venerable Edmund Gwen. It’s an odd choice for a war film, to consciously consider the journey of the dead, sort of a cross between Here Comes Mr. Jordan and Our Town. But the implications are much more serious with all of the deaths that happened during the war. Based on the play Outward Bound, it’s something of a remake of the 1930 film of the same name. The setting has been updated to wartime and some significant changes made to the earlier film.

The film begins with a group of people waiting to board a liner to New York. John Garfield is a hot-headed reporter who’s just been fired, with his girlfriend actress Faye Emerson in tow. Also along for the ride are merchant seaman George Tobias and a poor Irish woman Sara Allgood. Rounding out the group is a priest, a wealthy industrialist, and a snooty aristocratic couple. But before they can board there is an air raid and all of them are killed by a bomb in the transportation car. Concert pianist Paul Henreid, desperate to get on the ship, is told he must wait and so he goes home to commit suicide. He’s joined there by his wife, Eleanor Parker, who won’t leave his side. Suddenly all of them are onboard the steamer for America, but the only two who know they’re dead are the suicide victims. Edmund Gwen is there to keep things calm, but even he can’t prevent Garfield from spilling the beans, or angel Sydney Greenstreet from meting out the afterlife they’ve earned.

It’s certainly an odd film, especially the screenplay by Daniel Fuchs. It’s full of stilted dialogue, melodrama, and bizarre behaviors. Henreid, for once, is the leading man he always imagined himself to be, but even here he has to share the spotlight with an ensemble cast. Garfield’s character wears thin, lashing out not only at his girlfriend but industrialist George Coulouris for getting him fired. The worst acting of the bunch, however, has to be Paul Henreid. The part is incredibly bland right from the start and he doesn’t seem to have a real reason for wanting to leave his wife, or committing suicide for that matter. The film doesn’t really come alive--no pun intended--until Sydney Greenstreet shows up. The other obvious positive is the lush, orchestral score by the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold, which includes the distinctive piano piece. Edward Blatt was given a couple of other assignments after this, but he never became a director of note. In the end, Between Two Worlds is a decidedly average film with a great score.

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