Primarily because of Ace Frehley and Eddie Van Halen, I spent a lot of time trying to learn how to play the guitar. I was never even remotely good at it. Nevertheless, I had some fun, and it taught me at least one thing about music–the bass player and drummer are there for a reason. Strip a song down to just the guitar parts, and they suddenly lose a lot of interest. Or, conversely, add it in and even the most rudimentary playing is improved. The point is that it’s not always easy to see the extent to which each individual part contributes to the whole. The performance of Sidney Greenstreet in Between Two Worlds provides a good litmus test of this concept as applied to cinema.
Sideny Greenstreet was a character actor whose career spanned a mere eight years yet included such notable films as Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. He makes his appearance in Between Two Worlds roughly halfway through the film and then exits again before its conclusion. The film in and of itself is tolerable, but just barely. The acting is hammy, the dialogue ho-hum, and the plot predictable. It feels more like an extended Twilight Zone episode than a feature film, and a run-of-the-mill one at that. Greenstreet’s understated performance, however, lends the film some much needed gravitas, and he elevates the performances of those around him while he’s on the screen.
The plot revolves around a group of individuals who find themselves travelling upon a curiously deserted passenger ship, which they believe is sailing for the United States. In truth, the ship is sailing much farther, to the hereafter in fact, for as it turns out these passengers have all passed, and the only thing remaining for them is to receive judgement from “the Examiner,” played by Greenstreet.
It’s and interesting premise that is realized in an unusual way. Heaven and hell are the ultimate destinations, but they are presented in a way quite outside a traditional Judaeo/Christian context. The film has this point and Greenstreet’s performance to recommend it; otherwise, it is entirely forgettable.