27 June 2000 | critic-2
Overall, MUCH superior to its original version
This is a remake of the 1930 early-talkie "Outward Bound", which was based on the hit 1925 stage play. This version updates the period from the 1920's to the 1940's, and incorporates WW II elements into the story---a totally unnecessary tactic; the original play was quite good on its own and didn't need to have topical elements awkwardly sandwiched in. In fact,one of its strengths was that the entire unworldly experience seemed to take place in an unspecified time.
But this film has a very realistic beginning to it, and a war-related incident sets the plot in motion. The film's only serious blunder---though one that does not fatally affect it----is that we are tipped off as to what is really going on much too early in the film, in comparison to the 1930 film version, in which the characters realized their true situation at the same time as the audience did.
Aside from those objections, though, this is one of the few remakes which tops the original in nearly every department. Without exception, the actors in this version outdo the stiff, primitive early-talkie performances of their predecessors, and this may well be the only film in which Paul Henreid, normally not the most charismatic actor, gives a finer performance than the then-awkward Douglas Fairbanks,Jr. did in the same role in the 1930 film.
Especially outstanding are Edmund Gwenn as the ship's steward, Isobel Elsom as a rich, elderly, bitchy woman, Sydney Greenstreet as a mysterious character whose identity will not be revealed here, and Sara Allgood in one of the most sensitive performances of her career (she acts rings around Beryl Mercer from the 1930 version). George Coulouris, a reliable villain in those days (he was Orson Welles' nasty guardian in "Citizen Kane") is sinister and pompous as a greedy tycoon. And John Garfield is excellent in the Leslie Howard role, altered some to fit Garfield's tough, bitter on-screen persona rather than Howard's ultra-sophisticated, debonair one. (Garfield,though,does not go as berserk when he finds out the truth as Howard so hilariously did in the 1930 version.)
Although much of the dialogue in the first half has been changed and perhaps made slightly less "literary", the second half,which features Sydney Greensteet, is quite faithful to the earlier film and the stage play. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's music runs through nearly every scene, and, although verging toward the bombastic and melodramatic at times, lends plenty of atmosphere to the story.
One unfortunate aspect is that the photography in this version never becomes as eerie as that in the 1930 version, with its striking light and darkness effects. But none of these faults should keep you away from this film, which deserves far better than its relative obscurity in comparison to the other great Warner Bros. classics as well as other films dealing with the afterlife.