Sunday 6 April 2008

Outward Bound (1930)

I've seen and enjoyed Between Two Worlds, the 1944 version with such intriguing names as John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet and Edmund Gwenn, so I know what to expect here. The play was first produced in 1923 and seems to have been rather popular, popular enough to attempt an ambitious early talkie version very early in the life of sound technology. It's a little creaky with the camera movements especially dubious on occasion, and a lot of awkward pauses between deliveries but there some intriguing names here too.

There's the ever ethereal Helen Chandler and Douglas Fairbanks Jr as a young couple who commit suicide and find themselves on some sort of mostly deserted cruise liner. They try to hide their sin from the rest of the passengers but soon realise that they're all in the same boat, pun very much intended. Leading the cast is Leslie Howard, thankfully not playing a nothing of a character for a change. I've seen a number of his films, but he's almost always a waste of space, not because he isn't a talented actor but because his characters were always wastes of space. It's always a pleasure and a surprise to see him playing someone of substance, even though he does an awful lot of what can only be called male histrionics, and it's surprising to find that this was his first American film.

I know who he is and what's going to happen to him, just as I do everyone else on the boat from the remake, so it gives me a good opportunity to see how a new (or old) set of actors interpret the roles. Dudley Digges is the Examiner, in a role that Sidney Greenstreet would reinterpret in the remake, just as he would reinterpret the role of Kasper Guttman that Digges originated on film a year after this in the first screen version of The Maltese Falcon. Given what else I've seen Digges do on film I'm hardly surprised that he's great here too. From The Invisible Man to The Emperor Jones, from The Hatchet Man to Mutiny on the Bounty, from China Seas to Raffles, he's always worth watching.

I've seen Montagu Love in huge amounts of films too but he's the worst offender on the paused delivery front here. He's very capable of being officious though. Alison Skipworth I don't know, but she's wonderful as the haughty Mrs Cliveden-Banks who looks down her nose at everyone even though they're worth far more than she is. Beryl Mercer is excellent as a common street woman, or so Mrs Cliveden-Banks sees her. Lyonel Watts is OK and Alec B Francis isn't bad either, but he isn't Edmund Gwenn, that's for sure. And then there's Helen Chandler and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Chandler is fine in a role very suited for her, though it's only at the end that she gets a real possibility to shine. Fairbanks is fine too but he's playing against type and he's far more memorable elsewhere.

I may be biased by having seen the remake first but this seems to be a more creaky version. It has much to offer but it's definitely inferior on the whole, despite the benefit of being outside the code and thus with a couple of snippets that help to give a little bit of understanding to the story that wasn't possible in the remake.

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