Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Outward Bound

Outward Bound title card

TCM is showing a very interesting early talkie at 9:00 AM on March 27: Outward Bound. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stars as Henry who, with his wife, is one of several passengers on a mysterious ship. They're not certain where the ship is headed, and there doesn't seem to be much of a crew. This greatly bothers some of the passengers (especially an alcoholic played by Leslie Howard, in his first American film), while others are a bit equivocal about it.

I don't want to give the plot away by pointing out why everybody is on that ship, and instead want to point out a different plot element that is in its own right interesting: the use of sound effects. The passengers can hear various clanking noises that presumably come from parts of the ship, although when they search for the source of these noises, they're unable to find anything. Also, a key plot point is a pet dog, whose off-camera barking can be heard. Back in 1930, when this movie was made, the studios didn't know how to use sound, giving the audiences either movies with lots of songs (even when the songs are in odd places), or what are effectively filmed productions of stage plays. (For the record, Outward Bound is itself based on a stage play of the same title.) As such, Outward Bound has parts where it seems to drag, even though it only has a runtime of about 80 minutes. But where Outward Bound is unique is those sound effects, which help drive the plot in a way very few other early talkies were doing.

Outward Bound was remade in 1944 as Between Two Worlds, with much a much bigger budget, better production values, and a cast to rival that of the original: John Garfield stars, with Casablanca castaways Paul Henried and Sydney Greenstreet amongst the supporting actors. Personally, I prefer the former. Sadly, though, neither of these movies is available on DVD.

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