Selling Between Two Worlds (1944) Is A Life-Or-Death Call
It's stating the obvious that folks in wartime wondered lots more about what happens to us after death. What better time, then, to remake Outward Bound, an old stage property that explored souls in transit to a next world. There had been screen adapt in 1930, not especially good then, and creaky today as old talkies can get. Between Two Worlds updates the tale to backdrop of fresh conflict, its characters blown up in the blitz and set forth together on route to Heaven or Hell, determined by conduct of each in life. The property has built-in appeal, as who doesn't wonder what afterlife's pay-off will be? Is it really so simple as good rewarded, greed/avarice punished? Between Two Worlds would have us think so. It needs no leap of faith to imagine sweet Sara Allgood en route to paradise, or likeable lunkhead George Tobias bound for same, nor do we doubt George Coulouris headed for hotter clime. Suspense, then, is left to whether attempted suicides Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker will answer for their misdeed, or if cynic idler John Garfield will burn for mere bad attitude. What if final judgment does operate so neatly as movies portray it?
"Lasting Love" was ad-tendered as Theme of Between Two Worlds, a misnomer of sorts, for who had nerve to declare it was all about death? In midst of war, this could spell doom to ticket-selling. Still a majority in 1944 had to contemplate loss, movies the means by which grim thoughts could be pushed from conscious minds for a few hours at least. This may explain well as anything how Hollywood enjoyed its World War boom. Publicity for Between Two Worlds walked a slick rope by comparing the title's implied journey to hereafter with servicemen "between two worlds" of peace at home and "a place unknown to them," this illuminating a need for us to keep in closer touch with them via letters and parcels. Warners was cautious then, to conceal what Between Two Worlds was really about. Ads told everything but the truth about this attraction, a given where selling of uncertain product went, but here was a curtain drawn tight against a theme thought risky no matter how patronage might be moved by it. Brave showmen could go the more explicit route, as did management of the Newman Theatre in Kansas City, a test run for which WB and the Newman art shop prepared ads to spell out the death theme and emphasize that Between Two Worlds was “Too Eerie For Children.” Ads I found from elsewhere went safer ways, with romance and a star cast the emphasis, but these Newman samples must be admired for laying a dicey theme on the line.
Cleveland Opts for Safe Selling
"We're Headed For Heaven Or Plenty Of Trouble" says wiseacre John Garfield in promotional art, which could mean anything other than the Heaven this film is about, but on the other hand, who could complain they were misled? Studio press laid off that distinction and focused on offscreen Garfield as good-cheer ambassador for soldiers far afield. His volunteering to entertain troops got much emphasis. Had Garfield's public been served with notice of the star's compromised health? A bad heart kept him from taking up arms, but no one served so unselfishly on a homefront and at hazardous ports of call. Being primary marquee name put Garfield at center of virtually all ads, the better to conceal actual content of Between Two Worlds. An ensemble cast delivers well, this an occasion for actors to overcome type casting that dogged much of screen work, or to shade those types with richer-than-usual characterization. If less of it jells than we'd like, there are those efforts, plus novelty of the set-up. What's more arresting than a ship bound from the here to the hereafter? Between Two Worlds was profitable without being notably so. A best feature in hindsight might be the score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, reason by itself to have the Warner Archive DVD or catch Between Two Worlds next time on TCM.