World War II is in full swing, and London is being hit with an air raid attack.
After the attack, several people awake on board an odd ship with no knowledge of how they got there or where they’re headed. They were all planning to board ships for America before the air raid occurred, but this is not the ship that they expected to be on.
What they don’t yet realize, but will soon discover, is that they were all killed in the air raid and will soon be delivered to either heaven or hell. An “examiner” is on his way to the ship, where he will determine each of their fates.
As this realization that they have died comes to fruition one by one for the members of the diverse group, each of their life stories is slowly revealed.
Edward A. Blatt directs the melodramatic fantasy Between Two Worlds. The cast includes John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Eleanor Parker, Sydney Greenstreet and George Tobias. The script was adapted by Daniel Fuchs (Panic in the Streets) from a play by Sutton Vane. Vane’s play also served as the basis for the 1930 film Outward Bound, starring Leslie Howard.
Between Two Worlds is a film with some of the strangest mood-mixing I’ve ever seen. It is at times incredibly sentimental, but a certain level of eeriness is also maintained throughout most of the film due to the fact that the entire premise centers around a ship full of deceased people. It’s melodrama meets spooky exploration of death, with some romance thrown in for good measure, too.
While odd, this mix is certainly engrossing. In combination with the slow reveals of each character’s personality and history, it makes for a film that’s difficult to turn away from. The fact that some characters are in on the truth before others adds to the sense of intrigue, too.
The cast is enough to keep the viewer hooked as well. The film is full of incredible talent, and while the level of melodrama sometimes goes overboard (often due to semi-corny dialogue combined with an over-utilized but beautiful score), the performances themselves are solid.
The stand-outs here are Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker. [This portion of the review will contain a small spoiler.] The two portray a married couple who are the first to realize that everyone on the ship is dead. They’re able to learn the truth so quickly because they already know for a fact that they are dead: they committed suicide together. [End of spoiler.] Their story is heartbreaking and touching, and Henreid in particular gives a very sensitive performance that gives his character a strong emotional connection with the viewer.
Steer clear of this one if you’re severely opposed to sentimental morality films, but otherwise Between Two Worlds is definitely worth a watch. The film is available on DVD and also pops up on TCM now and again. You may remember from my “10 deal breakers” post last year that films with overemphasized religious messages are usually not of interest to me, but this is an exception because the cast is so stellar and the plot is so gripping. Aside from this emphasis, the film’s only downfalls are a few overdramatic moments and the stereotypes applied to the characters, but these don’t come close to ruining it. The score: 4/5