Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema is a rare little jewel, Outward Bound, starring the brilliant Leslie Howard. This unusual supernatural drama, based on a 1924 Broadway stage hit, concerns a disparate group of people who find themselves sailing to an unknown destination on a ship constantly shrouded in fog. Appropriate, no?
1930 NY Times Film Review: Outward Bound (1930) By MORDAUNT HALL. Published: September 18, 1930
Barely a whispered word escaped the lips of the spectators last night in the Hollywood Theatre as they watched a most impressive Vitaphone version of Sutton-Vane's play, "Outward Bound." Now and again there was a wave of modulated laughter, and when the picture came to an end there was a genuine outburst of applause.
It was a memorable evening in more ways than one, for aside from having the temerity to produce the shell-shocked soldier-actor's stirring work dealing with a ship aboard which all the passengers, except two known as the "Half-ways," are dead, the Warner Brothers offered their film without the usual pomp and fanfare and without any short subjects that might have interfered with the spirit of the weird but penetrating feature.
In filming this play the producers went to great pains. They engaged Robert Milton, who had directed the stage work, to supervise the picture, and wherever it was possible they obtained the services of players who had acted in the play. But be it known that those who were recruited in Hollywood to fill the places of those actors who were not available accomplish their work admirably. It is, in fact, a picture in which everybody shines, a picture that, like the play, sends one away from it deeply moved. Mr. Milton has not sought to change the action, but at the same time he has succeeded in giving to this film fine cinematic touches wherever opportunity offers.
Leslie Howard, who acted one of the "Half-ways" in the play, undertakes the rôle portrayed by Alfred Lunt on the stage. His vocal delivery, his expressions and gestures leave nothing to be desired. Considering that this is his first talking picture part, he is entitled to all the greater praise for his performance.
The basic idea of this strange chronicle is perhaps clearer in the picture than it was in the play. This idea concerns the "Half-ways," two young people in love with each other who decide to commit suicide. It is the young man's imaginings while unconscious that form the action of the piece. The young people, Henry and Ann, have turned on the gas in a humble London flat and it is their dog Laddie who breaks a window and saves them.
At the close of the production, a London Bobby talks about a bone instead of a medal for Laddie and this and what has gone before so affected several in the audience that their eyes were wet when the lights were switched on. One felt that the men and women present were more kindly on leaving the theatre than they were when they entered.
Soon after the first flashes of Henry and Ann, a strange-looking ship is seen through the fog. Aboard this vessel are Scrubby, the steward; the haughty Mrs. Cliveden-Banks, who dotes on her hyphen; sweet and humble Mrs. Midget; the Rev. William Duke, who has lost his post; the mundane Mr. Lingley, who never gave a man a second chance; Tom Prior, who has permitted his thirst to dominate his soul, and Henry and Ann.
First it is discovered by Prior, played by Mr. Howard, that the ship has no port or starboard lights; then that the only uniformed man aboard is Scrubby, who goes aloft when he is not in the saloon or looking after the staterooms; then comes the more stirring realization that they, the passengers, are all dead—bound for where! Mrs. Cliveden-Banks is anxious, but she, like Lingley, never bends. It is a mysterious journey. None can remember whither they were going when they came aboard.
Scrubby finally announces that land has been sighted. Here it might be said that the hazy outlines of oddly shaped structures that come to the screen are grouped much like New York's skyline.
Scrubby then tells the passengers that the Examiner is coming aboard. This Examiner arrives in the person of Dudley Digges, who played the same part on the stage. He looks into the natures of the individuals, meets out their punishment or reward, and Lingley, Mrs. Cliveden-Banks and Prior listen to the Examiner's verdict.
The "Half-ways" are not on the Examiner's list. They are left with Scrubby on the phantom ship. Henry hears a dog's bark, then the breaking of glass. After some time one perceives the ship's foghorn dissolve into an ambulance signal and there is a little throng of people surrounding the flat where Henry and Ann had attempted suicide.
Beryl Mercer gives as fine a performance as Mrs. Midget as she did on the stage. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. does well as Henry. Helen Chandler is excellent as Ann. Alec Francis figures as Scrubby, a rôle interpreted before the footlights by J. M. Kerrigan. Mr. Francis's performance is the best he has given in talking films. Alison Skipworth and Montagu Love do full justice to their respective rôles—Mrs. Cliveden-Banks and Mr. Lingley. Lyonel Watts plays with sincerity and feeling the same role in which he was seen in the play—that of the Rev. William Duke. Dudley Digges handles his part skillfully.
Away From the World.
OUTWARD BOUND, with Leslie Howard, Beryl Mercer, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Helen Chandler, Alison Skipworth, Montagu Love, Lyonel Watts, Alec B. Francis and Dudley Digges, based on Sutton-Vane's play of the same title, directed by Robert Milton. At the Hollywood Theatre.