Forgotten Films to Remember: ‘Between Two Worlds’

btwopener2Ever since Morlock Greg Ferrara questioned why some classic movies are remembered and others are forgotten in a post earlier this month, I have been turning over in my mind the implications of his point. As the Golden Age slips further into the past, a canon of familiar classics has emerged to represent that era; in other words, beloved movies like Casablanca, The Philadelphia Story, Rebel without a Cause, An American in Paris, The Searchers, the comedies of the Marx Brothers, screwball comedies, etc., tend to stand in for  all of Hollywood history. Their importance is reinforced by film festivals, continual releases on DVD, and references in other pop culture. Getting young generations to recognize older films as a vital part of our culture is difficult, so I am not complaining that the canon of classic movies gets its due. But, what about the hundreds of other unusual, charming, provocative, quirky, and otherwise remarkable films that are less famous? Will they be forgotten, especially because vintage black-and-white movies are simply off the radars of most people? Are they doomed to be lost in an era when the costly preservation of original negatives and prints is essential to their safeguarding?

CLAUDE RAINS PLAYS THE TITLE ROLE IN 'THE CLAIRVOYANT,' ALONGSIDE FAY WRAY.

CLAUDE RAINS PLAYS THE TITLE ROLE IN ‘THE CLAIRVOYANT,’ ALONGSIDE FAY WRAY.

I am currently involved in a personal project with my friend and partner in all things cinematic, Maryann, which has caused me to reflect further on these questions. Her father, Sam Nova, died earlier this year, leaving behind a vast collection of movies on DVD. A life-long movie lover, Sam had been recording and collecting movies since the earliest days of videotape. He owned thousands of movies, which Maryann has inherited. Whenever I needed a film for class or research, Sam was my secret source for movies. He enjoyed how much his collection helped us in our work, and he liked spreading the gospel of old movies to those who simply wanted to watch them.

FAY WRAY ALSO COSTARRED IN 'THE DIRIGIBLE,' ANOTHER FILM I HAD NEVER HEARD OF.

FAY WRAY ALSO COSTARRED IN ‘THE DIRIGIBLE,’ ANOTHER FILM I HAD NEVER HEARD OF.

As Maryann and I continue to sift through his truly impressive collection, we have discovered that we are not nearly as “well-viewed” as we thought we were. We uncovered dozens of titles that were completely unfamiliar to us: Wine, Women and Horses, a pre-code film with Barton MacLane and Ann Sheridan; Star of Midnight, which paired two of my favorites, Ginger Rogers and William Powell; The Half-Naked Truth, a vehicle for Lupe Velez; The Golden Fleecing, a comedy starring Lew Ayres as a mild-mannered insurance agent wrapped up with the mob;  Dirigible, which “starred” the U.S Navy’s dirigibles, or airships; Clairvoyant, an English production featuring Claude Rains as a mind reader; Double Dynamite with the unlikely team of Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx; and many more. Spot-checking hundreds of DVDs over the past weeks has given us a crash course in films that were more typical for viewers back in the day when movie-goers went to the theater weekly or bi-weekly. In other words, these are movies that are not in that canon of classics that is trotted out all too often.  After weeks of organizing, we now recognize the names of directors unfamiliar to us before: For example, Alfred E. Green, whose Baby Face is a well-known pre-Code movie, directed countless other movies during the 1930s, including The Girl from Manhattan, The Dark Horse, and the Bette Davis melodrama Dangerous. We have come across early movies by Rouben Mamoulian (City Streets), Anthony Mann (Desperate), and Raoul Walsh (The Bowery). The experience has further invigorated my passion for Golden Age movies, especially those from the 1930s, a decade that produced a variety of unusual and unsung gems.

GEORGE COULOURIS, PAUL HENREID, JOHN GARFIELD, GEORGE TOBIAS, AND DENNIS KING ARE SERVED BY EDMUND GWENN.

GEORGE COULOURIS, PAUL HENREID, JOHN GARFIELD, GEORGE TOBIAS, AND DENNIS KING ARE SERVED BY EDMUND GWENN, WHOSE CHARACTER KNOWS MORE THAN HE IS SAYING.

In the spirit of her father, we have been sharing the extra copies by sending out packages of well-known classics, lesser-known titles, and unknown oddities to friends who are also cinephiles and movie lovers. I hope each recipient finds something that reinforces or sparks a love of classic movies, and that they will share their favorites by showing them in a classroom, introducing them to their kids, or passing them along to friends. It’s our personal campaign to draw attention to all movies from the past and to generate excitement in watching them.

PAUL HENREID COMFORTS ELEANOR PARKER. 'BETWEEN TWO WORLDS' WAS PARKER'S FIRST MAJOR ROLE.

PAUL HENREID COMFORTS ELEANOR PARKER. ‘BETWEEN TWO WORLDS’ WAS PARKER’S FIRST MAJOR ROLE.

To expand participation in this campaign, I am launching a series of semi-regular blog posts called “Forgotten Films to Remember.” I stole the title from a book by John Springer, which I relied on a great deal in the long-ago days before the IMDB. My criteria for selecting films for this semi-regular feature is simple: They will be enjoyable, offbeat, well crafted, provocative, strange, or otherwise distinctive movies that have not gotten their due. Some may be familiar yet overlooked; others may be truly forgotten.  My hope is to spark the curiosity of readers, who will take the time to track down the titles for future viewing and then recommend them to others.

To launch the series, I selected the 1944 drama Between Two Worlds, because it was at the top of my stack of my must-watch-soon movies, and coincidentally, it is airing on TCM tomorrow night at 10:00PM. Between Two Worlds is the second film adaptation of the novel Outward Bound by Sutton Vane. It could easily be considered part of that subgenre of fantasy dramas so popular during World War II in which various characters are caught in limbo between life and death. Generally, the characters’ fates are judged by a celestial emissary who considers their moral fiber and notes their willingness to sacrifice for others. Between Two Worlds follows a small group of passengers who escape the ravages of war-time Europe aboard an ocean liner bound for America. The passengers represent a cross-section of people whose lives have been affected by the war, including a pianist who fought for the Free French and his young wife (Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker), a cynical American journalist who has lost his compassion for humanity (John Garfield), an actress with loose morals (Faye Emerson ), a merchant marine excited about being a new father (George Tobias), a snobby British aristocrat and her spineless husband (Isobel Elsom and Gilbert Emery), a rich industrialist who made profitable deals with the enemy (George Coulouris), a naïve clergyman (Dennis King), and a meek working-class woman who is bullied by the aristocrat and defended by the American (Sara Allgood). A kindly steward (Edmund Gwenn) tries to make their voyage pleasant by attending to their needs, while the passengers mumble, “I can’t remember,” “My head is swimming,” or “I’m confused.” It doesn’t take long for the group to figure out that they are all dead. They exist in a state of purgatory as they wait for a figure called the Examiner (Sydney Greenstreet) to decide their fates. I would be nervous too if my fate was being decided by Sidney Greenstreet.

THE DECK OF THE OCEAN LINER TAKES ON AN ADDED SIGNIFICANCE.

THE DECK OF THE OCEAN LINER TAKES ON AN ADDED SIGNIFICANCE.

While there are more ambitious, humorous, or profound examples of this subgenre (A Matter of Life and Death; A Guy Named Joe; Here Comes Mr. Jordan), I found Between Two Worlds appealing for several reasons. John Garfield and Paul Henreid costar as the two male leads, and their opposing star images serve to contrast and balance each other.  Wound tighter than a drum, Garfield’s American character is anxious, argumentative, and animated, while Henreid’s Viennese pianist is calm, cool, and composed. Garfield speaks quickly in an urban American accent marked by slang and swagger, which contrasts with Henreid’s smooth European accent full of dulcet tones.  In their confrontation scene, the differences underscore their opposing viewpoints. As part of the group, each seemed to sum up the strengths and weaknesses of their American or European comrades. It was an example of how smart casting can be more than just the selection of popular stars.

I also liked the atmosphere and tone of Between Two Worlds, which was far more melancholy than the brightly lit worlds of other movies in this subgenre. The low key lighting and foggy backgrounds created a mood that was appropriately mysterious and ethereal. The long deck of the ocean liner, which was almost always depicted as receding into space in classic one-point perspective, took on an eerie connotation that was perfect for a space that was truly “between two worlds.”  A simple set, yet one that was thematically related to the storyline.  The story, the focus on the moral choices of the characters, and the melancholy, eerie tone reminded me of The Twilight Zone, which is one of my three favorite television series.

Between Two Worlds should attract not only devotees of The Twilight Zone but also viewers who have been following the tribute to Paul Henreid every Tuesday night on TCM as well as fans of John Garfield.  If you watch Between Two Worlds tomorrow, or if you have seen it in the past, please leave a comment regarding what you think are the film’s strengths and appeal. How nice it would be if word of mouth could shine a spotlight on lesser-known movies that deserve a longer look.

29 Responses Forgotten Films to Remember: ‘Between Two Worlds’
Posted By swac44 : July 22, 2013 1:06 pm

I love this idea for a semi-regular Morlocks feature, I’m always coming across amazing older films that astonish me with their obscurity. Be it a Lee Tracy pre-code or a Poverty Row film noir, I’m always aware of how many great older titles are out there waiting for me to discover them.

This weekend I started going through a stack of “grey market” DVDs picked up at a classic film fest, and pulled out one of the early talkie all-star revues that briefly flourished in the early days of sound pictures, this one was Paramount on Parade. It’s a shade better than Show of Shows and other such titles, but has amazing scenes like a comedy sketch with Warner Oland as Fu Manchu, William Powell as Philo Vance, and Clive Brook as Sherlock Holmes, hamming it up with Jack Oakie. Goofy and hilarious, I was somewhat amazed that I hadn’t come across this title before, but the combination of its archival status (chunks of the film are missing, mostly Technicolor sequence) and the fact that early Paramounts (along with Fox, Columbia and Universal titles) don’t get seen to the same degree as the Warner-owned WB, MGM, RKO and assorted other studios titles.

Posted By Tim Tracy : July 22, 2013 1:31 pm

Thanks for writing something positive about this film. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is one of my favorites! The performances far outshine those in OUTWARD BOUND, the first film version. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, and it continues to be entertaining.

Posted By Arthur : July 22, 2013 2:06 pm

Yes, Between Two Worlds has a captivating, moody melancholiness. And I had not realized that it was part of a WWII sub genre of people caught between life and death. I guess these films were stand-ins for the audience itself caught in dreadful suspense in a calamitous war whose outcome was far from certain.

Posted By Emgee : July 22, 2013 2:48 pm

I recognize the feeling: the more you dive into film history, the more you realise how many films you still haven’t seen, or even heard of.
Between Two Worlds is a good case in point. I’ve seen my share of John Garfield movies, but never even heard of this one.
Luckily i have seen Desperate, The Dark Horse and the excellent
City Streets, which deserves to be as classic as Little Caesar.

Posted By Brendan G Carroll : July 22, 2013 3:22 pm

Between Two Worlds seems a much better film today than it did at the time of release as this is due to its ensemble cast and its remarkable music score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. In fact it was Korngold’s own favourite among the films he scored and was of special significance to him because he composed the score while he mourned the sudden death of his friend and mentor Max Reinhardt, the famous director who had brought Korngold to Hollywood a decade earlier to score “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. It’s a one-of-a-kind movie and I’m delighted it has been singled out here for recognition.

Posted By Miz-tree : July 22, 2013 4:54 pm

Ah yes, “The Clairvoyant” — Claude Rains in a starring role (for a change) and happily married (for a BIG change!)There’s a scene where (feeling playful) he picks up Fay Wray in his arms (King Kong, anyone?) and runs out of the room.

Posted By markmayerson : July 22, 2013 6:59 pm

I’ve always liked Between Two Worlds and it’s worth noting that the score is by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : July 22, 2013 7:40 pm

Great plan, writing about movies that we classic film fans might not ever have heard of. Thanks for picking Between Two Worlds, as I was thinking about watching it, now I know I will.

Posted By Susan Doll : July 22, 2013 9:23 pm

I am so glad to see the positive reaction to BETWEEN TWO WORLDS and to my idea for a new semi-regular feature. My friend Sam would have been pleased.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : July 22, 2013 9:50 pm

I’m going to definitely check out Between Two Worlds. And I am constantly reminded of how I’m not nearly as well-versed in film history as I think. Always finding “new” old movies I haven’t seen.

Posted By Doug : July 22, 2013 11:47 pm

“he liked spreading the gospel of old movies”-like that gentleman, we all have a bit of evangelist in us, calling out to a busy world that they are missing something wonderful.
Star of Midnight was pretty good, made into something better by the inclusion of Ginger and William Powell.
I liked “Between Two Worlds”;it would be interesting to see an updated version made by someone who really knows how to put a movie together.
We all have limited resources; I try to buy as many older movies by my favorites as I can afford-with so many viewing options THIS is a golden age of movie purchasing.
I’ve commented before about Howard Hughes-one of the richest men of his time, a man who loved movies…but with the limited technology of his day he had to watch a lousy CRT television; in the era before home video he would call up KLAS, the station he owned in Vegas, and have them run his favorite movies. Right now We are movie rich compared to our compatriots of a few decades ago.
Susan, I commend you and Maryann for sharing the gospel of old movies.
I hope that you have the capability of transferring analog to digital. Possibly a deal could be made with a company that specializes in that. Mr. Nova’s legacy would endure longer if digitized.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : July 23, 2013 9:16 pm

the very idea of “Morlocks” is underground dwellers,but unlike the titular characters,you can’t make people like the esoterica we drool over,but there’s enough of us around to spread the love and enthusiasm,unfortunately there are a lot of people that will outright dismiss any black and white film,it’s up to aficiandos to gently steer others in that direction,which i’ve happily done for years

Posted By tdraicer : July 24, 2013 1:15 am

Between Two Worlds was on tv quite a lot in my childhood-I still remember the music.

>And I am constantly reminded of how I’m not nearly as well-versed in film history as I think. Always finding “new” old movies I haven’t seen.

Greg, did you ever get to see The Mask Of Dimitrios? If not, it is on dvd now.

Posted By Kingrat : July 24, 2013 12:23 pm

Susan, your idea for a series of articles on forgotten films is just great, and I’m a big fan of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, with its brilliant ensemble cast and the Korngold score. Paul Henreid’s daughter Monika has mentioned in her guest appearance at silverscreenoasis.com that her father enjoyed working with John Garfield. Edward A. Blatt, who directed BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, directed only two more films.

By the way, the characters played by Faye Emerson, George Tobias, and Gilbert Emery were added for this remake of OUTWARD BOUND. Fans of this film might also like HIGH BARBAREE, another wonderful romantic film from the decade which made so many good ones.

Like you, I love DIRIGIBLE, THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH, and CITY STREETS. HIGH BARBAREE was made in 1947, a fantastic year for little-known gems, such as DEEP VALLEY, THE LONG NIGHT, NIGHT SONG, and THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI. Until recently NIGHTMARE ALLEY belonged in that category, too.

Posted By Heidi : July 25, 2013 12:24 pm

Thank you for sharing all these wonderful movie finds with us! I can’t wait to hear about them all. Between Two Worlds is a great movie. I haven’t seen it in years, but I had to laugh at the comment about being nervous if Sydney Greenstreet was deciding our fate! The idea gives me chills. I love John Garfield, and thought this a good role for him. We have been sharing our movie collection with everyone that we can. I work with people that are usually about 20 years younger than me, and I enjoy introducing them to some of the classics they have never seen-or heard of. Can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next!

Posted By Arthur : July 25, 2013 8:38 pm

Garfield was also great in Humoresque with Joan Crawford and The Sea Wolf with Edward G. Robinson just to name two.

Posted By Susan Doll : July 25, 2013 9:52 pm

I truly appreciate everyone’s support on this topic. I will have another Forgotten Film week after next; I am thinking about selecting one from the 1930s.

Posted By Diana Quinn : July 26, 2013 4:44 am

I Have Never Before Written about a Movie, Especially To TCM. I Also Can’t Stop Thinking About It And Telling Others About How It Affected Me. Please Tell Me This Movie Is Available For Purchase. Thank You For Bringing It To Light.

Posted By swac44 : July 26, 2013 8:54 am

At least with the 1930s, there’s no shortage of titles to choose from!

Posted By Susan Doll : July 26, 2013 9:06 am

Diana: You are in luck. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is available on DVD. There are used copies on Amazon. That might not always be the case in the movies I might write about under “Forgotten Films to Remember.”

Posted By swac44 : July 26, 2013 11:42 am
Posted By michaelgloversmith : July 26, 2013 8:55 pm

Thanks for the reminder, Suzi, that one can never rake through classic Hollywood enough to see what forgotten gems might turn up. Dave Kehr’s “Further Research” column in Film Comment is also invaluable in this regard.

Posted By Brendan G Carroll : July 27, 2013 5:03 pm

Candidates for Forgotten Films that definitely shouldn’t be…check ‘em out!
1. The Unguarded Hour (1936) a classy thriller with Loretta Young and Franchot Tone being blackmailed by (who else?) Henry Daniell!
2. Four Hours to Kill (1934) a surprising, taut little B picture starring Richard Barthemless as an escaped crook on the run.
3. Souls at Sea (1937) a big budget 19th century seafaring drama starring Gary Cooper & George Raft that is totally forgotten today.
4. Counsellor at Law (1933) – John Barrymore’s best film, in which he plays a hot shot lawyer – and it’s pre-code!
5. We Live Again (1934) a version of Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” starring Fredric March and Anna Sten, beautifully directed by Rouben Mamoulian
6.Letty Lynton (1933) Joan Crawford’s best early film and a pre-code shocker!
7. Escapade (1935) the film that introduced Luise Rainer to the American screen, co-starring William Powell.
8. The Silver Cord (1933) a penetrating study of obsessive mother love starring Laura Hope Crews and Joel McRea
9. King of the Jungle (1933) a quite racy rip-off of Tarzan, starring Buster Crabbe and the delectable Frances Dee
10. Man’s Castle (1933) a pre-code romance starring Loretta Young and Spencer Tracy

Posted By Alistair : July 28, 2013 3:21 am

An excellent idea for a column; I look forward to reading your future entries. Just one suggestion; Perhaps you could concentrate on movies that do not have DVD releases, since these are even more likely to fall out of our collective memory?

With that in mind, may I suggest “Test Pilot” (1938), a superbly entertaining action-romance starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy and Lionel Barrymore? Yes, it’s hard to believe, but this thrilling classic hasn’t been released on DVD. TCM will be airing it in late August, so I urge all who’ve never seen it to put it on their calendar.

Posted By Susan Doll : July 28, 2013 12:39 pm

Brendan: I saw Counsellor at Law at the TCM Classic Film Fest in 2012. It was terrific. I agree that it may be JB’s finest film.

Posted By robbushblog : July 31, 2013 11:50 am

Counsellor at Law has been in the top 10 of my Netflix queue since you wrote about it last year, and I still haven’t been able to see it. It’s on a “Long Wait”.

Unfortuntaely, I missed the showing of Between Two Worlds. Rats!

Posted By robbushblog : July 31, 2013 11:51 am

I spelled “Unfortunately” incorrectly. Please forgive my typo.

Posted By Brendan G Carroll : August 1, 2013 3:08 am

Counsellor at Law was a revelation to me when I saw it about 8 years ago (I now have a pristine DVD of it). It was the first time that I could see how magnetic Barrymore must have been in the theatre. His sheer presence in this film is amazing. Of course, it’s directed by William Wyler which makes all the difference and possibly the only time JB worked with a truly great director.

Posted By Rick Smith : November 23, 2018 9:22 am

“Between Two Worlds” is one of, if not my favorite, John Garfield film. All of the actors were perfectly cast, and were also great.
Very powerful, memorable, emotional. It was not one of the best by reviewers, but I think that it holds up better today than in earlier days.
As time goes on, and movies get longer and more costly, they don’t get any better than “Between Two Worlds”. I hardly remember any of the modern movies I have seen in a theater, with reclining seats, making falling asleep easier and more appropriate. The sound of the window glass breaking, and its meaning, at the end of BTW, still resonates in my mind, many years after the first of many times I have seen the film.

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