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The third adaptation of the Sutton Vane novel Outward Bound (following a 1924 stage production and a 1930 British film), Between Two Worlds (1944) offers a World War II-era twist on an allegorical fantasy about a boatload of passengers traversing the waters between life and death, heaven and hell. Bumping up the number of souls from seven to ten, the colorful cast comprises the occupants of a bombed limousine as well as a married couple, Henry and Ann (Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker), who committed suicide via gas during the same attack. Among the others are cynical and worldly reporter Tom Prior (John Garfield), well-meaning businessman Mr. Cliveden-Banks (Gilbert Emery) and his more base and materialistic wife (Isobel Elsom), a dedicated reverend (Dennis King), a homesick sailor (George Tobias, of the TV series Bewitched), and virtuous housekeeper Mrs. Midget (Sara Allgood), who has a secret of her own. Aboard the ship they are attended to by the steward, Scrubby (Edmund Gwenn), until the arrival of their examiner (Sydney Greenstreet) who will decide the ultimate fate for each of them.
Though based on sturdy source material, Between Two Worlds faced a lukewarm reception from critics who decried its attempts at modernized slang and the present-day framing device which completely removed any element of surprise from the supernatural mid-story twist. However, it now holds more value as a prime example of the World War II "communal effort" film (see Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat  for a similar example) in which characters of various social and financial strata are united to face a common obstacle in this case, the hereafter itself.
The film also offers a prime opportunity to enjoy an early leading role for Garfield (shortly after his legal name changed from Julius Garfinkle), who would face traumatic HUAC hearings and a tragically premature death at the age of 39 in the following decade. Casablanca (1942) co-stars Henreid and Greenstreet appear together again here, albeit in very different roles. In his autobiography, Ladies' Man, Henreid recalled Garfield as "bright and pleasant, though somewhat naive, and we got along very well. John had to learn card tricks for the part, and he became tremendously excited about them. He practiced constantly, and bored all of us with them."
Making her first lead appearance, Eleanor Parker (remembered worldwide as the Baroness in The Sound of Music, 1965) adapted to the demands of a major Hollywood film and established an instant rapport with the married Garfield, who enlisted her as his leading lady the following year in Pride of the Marines (1945), much to the gossip columnists' delight. While this film was shooting, Garfield, Parker, Henreid and Greenstreet spent their off hours on another soundstage appearing in the star-studded Hollywood Canteen (1944), which paired leading man Garfield (again displaying his flashy cardsharp skills) with Bette Davis.
Though most of the film's behind-the-camera talent did not achieve much recognition beyond this project, film score aficionados will instantly recognize the handiwork of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, one of Warner Bros.' most venerable (if not prolific) musical talents who had lent his skills to The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and other significant swashbucklers and period dramas. Here his classical approach underscores the Henreid character, a despairing concert pianist whose inability to use his hands is lifted when, on the boat, his musical gifts return full force an aspect which obviously appealed to one of Hollywood's most legendary composers.
Producer: Mark Hellinger, Jack L. Warner
Director: Edward A. Blatt
Screenplay: Daniel Fuchs, Sutton Vane (play)
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Art Direction: Hugh Reticker
Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cast: John Garfield (Tom Prior), Paul Henreid (Henry Bergner), Sydney Greenstreet (Reverend Tim Thompson), Eleanor Parker (Ann Bergner), Edmund Gwenn (Scrubby), George Tobias (Pete Musick).
BW-112m. Closed captioning.
by Nathaniel Thompson