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Outward Bound

Outward Bound title card

Year - 1930
Studio - The Vitaphone Corporation, Warner Bros.
Stars - Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Beryl Mercer, Dudley Digges, Helen Chandler, Alec B. Francis, Montagu Love, Lyonel Watts, Allison Watts
Director - Robert Milton
Writing Credits - Sutton Vane (play), J. Grubb Alexander


One of the earliest films to seriously imagine issues of afterlife and judgement, Outward Bound was based on an internationally successful play of the same name by Sutton Vane. Several of the stage performers joined the cast, including Leslie Howard in his first American picture.

The story opens mysteriously with a young couple, Henry and Ann (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Helen Chandler) earnestly discussing doing something and bemoaning the fact that their beloved dog, Laddie, won't be able to join them. Shortly, they are found on a fog-enshrouded ocean liner with, apparently, only five other passengers: the alcoholic Tom Pryor (Leslie Howard), a friendly charwoman, Mrs. Midget (Beryl Mercer), pompous businessman, Mr. Lingley - of "Lingley, Ltd." (Montagu Love), the snobbish Mrs. Cliveden-Banks (Alison Skipworth), and a shy minister, Rev. William Duke (Lyonel Watts).

Outward Bound poster

All are, in various degrees, confused about how they arrived on the ship and exactly what their destination is, but are mainly uncurious about it. Pryor, however, obsesses over the mystery, and grills the ship's only crew, Scrubby (Alec B. Francis), with questions, eventually realizing that he and the other passengers are actually dead, which is confirmed by Scrubby. Their destination is still vague, Scrubby acknowledges "We're going to Heaven. And to Hell, too!"

Pryor hysterically tries to communicate these facts to the other passengers and, although they resist, eventually all come to accept the truth. When Scrubby announces that land has been sighted and the ship comes to rest, he instructs that the "Examiner" will soon board to announce each of the passengers' assignments.

The Examiner arrives, in the form of a crude, gregarious character (Dudley Digges) and he individually meets the passengers and pronounces his decisions about their fate. Some are given hopeful assignments, others receive punishments based on their life behavior and transgressions. However, he is unwilling to even meet the young couple, on the basis that they are are "Half Ways". They committed suicide by turning on the gas jet in their closed London flat.

Soon the other passengers have departed the ship, and Henry and Ann are left with Scrubby awaiting whatever destiny awaits. Henry, but not Ann, then hears the barking of his faithful dog Laddie and, upon investigating, disappears into the fog. While Scrubby insists to Ann that nothing can be done, Henry shortly returns and insists that Ann join him, but that there is little time.

In the final scene, Henry and Ann are back among the living, having been rescued from their gas filled London flat, saved by Laddie who frantically broke a window and roused the neighbors.

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Outward Bound was remade in 1944, as Between Two Worlds, with a stellar cast, including John Garfield, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Eleanor Parker, Edmund Gwenn, and George Tobias.