Sutton Vane
Sutton Vane was a British playwright best known work for Outward Bound
Outward Bound (play)
Outward Bound is a 1923 play written by Sutton Vane.The play is about a group of seven passengers who meet in the lounge of an ocean liner at sea and realize that they have no idea why they are there, or where they are bound...

(1923), which was filmed twice and was still being performed eight decades after its premiere.

Career as actor

Born Vane Sutton-Vane in England in 1888, he was the son of an author and playwright of the same name (the two were sometimes confused in the public mind at the outset of the younger Sutton Vane's career; Sutton Vane Sr. was responsible for such plays as The Cotton King and The Span of Life, which were filmed in the teens). He started out professionally as an actor, and might have made his mark in that field if not for the outbreak of the First World War. He joined the British army in 1914, at age 26, and served until he was invalided out due to shell-shock. Vane was haunted by guilt over this event, and once he sufficiently recovered, he returned to the combat area as a civilian, appearing for the entertainment of troops near the front lines during the later phase of the war — he made a particular impression in performances of Bayard Veiller
Bayard Veiller
Bayard Veiller was an American screenwriter, producer and film director. He wrote for 32 films between 1915 and 1941...

's 1916 hit The Thirteenth Chair
The Thirteenth Chair
The Thirteenth Chair is a 1929 mystery film directed by Tod Browning. It is based on a 1916 play of the same name by Bayard Veiller.-Cast:* Conrad Nagel as Richard Crosby* Leila Hyams as Helen 'Nellie' O'Neill...

, which he did on many stages with artillery bursting well within earshot. None of this would have been terribly important, but for the seriousness which the experience—of living on what felt like the edge of eternity—imparted to the young actor.


After the Armistice, Vane turned to writing plays, and authored two conventional works that caused little stir. Then came Outward Bound, which was so unusual in its subject matter as a fantasy-drama that no producer would go near it. Instead, Vane produced it himself, renting a theatre in London, painting his own backdrops, building his own sets, and bringing together a company of actors, all for a reported total of $600. Outward Bound is about a small, motley group of eight passengers who meet in the lounge of an ocean liner at sea and realize that they have no idea why they are there, or where they are bound. Each of them eventually discovers that they are dead, and that they're about to face judgment from an Examiner about whether they are to go to Heaven or Hell. In post-World War I England, with its reflective, pacifist mood—many hundreds of thousands of families were still mourning the loss of loved ones, and the nation collectively mourned the decimation of a generation of students, artists, writers, and musicians—the play struck a responsive chord and was an immediate success. Outward Bound was moved to a large theatre in London and became the biggest hit of the 1923 season.

The play came to Broadway in 1924, where it was a similarly huge success in a production starring Alfred Lunt
Alfred Lunt
Alfred Lunt was an American stage director and actor, often identified for a long-time professional partnership with his wife, actress Lynn Fontanne...

, Leslie Howard
Leslie Howard (actor)
Leslie Howard was an English stage and film actor, director, and producer. Among his best-known roles was Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind and roles in Berkeley Square , Of Human Bondage , The Scarlet Pimpernel , The Petrified Forest , Pygmalion , Intermezzo , Pimpernel Smith...

, Margalo Gillmore
Margalo Gillmore
Margaret Lorraine "Margalo" Gillmore was an English American film, stage and television actress....

, Beryl Mercer
Beryl Mercer
Beryl Mercer was a Spanish-born American-based actress of the 1920s and 1930s.Born to British parents in Seville, Beryl Mercer was best-known for her motherly roles in film and regularly appeared as a grandmother or cook or maid in some high profile films...

, and Dudley Digges
Dudley Digges (actor)
Dudley Digges was an Irish stage and film actor.Digges was born in Dublin. He went to America with a group of Irish players in 1904, and became successful both as an actor and producer. For a time, he was stage manager to Charles Frohman and George Arliss...

 (as the Examiner). Critics were taken with the play's mix of serious drama and fantasy, interspersed with moments of comedy, and it seemed to hold audiences spellbound—at the time, America was nursing its own psychic wounds coming out of the First World War, and the play seemed to allow a surprisingly wide swathe of people to address issues in their lives. Outward Bound was the kind of work that, once seen, provoked endless discussion and arguments about its meaning, all of which translated into irresistible word-of-mouth for the production for many months after the rave reviews.

The play was revived in London during 1928, and made into a 1930 film
Outward Bound (film)
Outward Bound is a film based on the hit 1923 play of the same name by Sutton Vane. The film stars Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Helen Chandler, Beryl Mercer, Montagu Love, Alison Skipworth, Alec B...

 in Hollywood by Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

 under director Robert Milton, with Howard playing Lunt's stage role this time instead of the one he created onstage, Mercer and Digges repeating their Broadway roles, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Douglas Elton Fairbanks, Jr. KBE was an American actor and a highly decorated naval officer of World War II.-Early life:...

, Helen Chandler
Helen Chandler
Helen Chandler was an American film and theater actress.-Career:Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Chandler began her acting career in New York at the age of nine and was on Broadway two years later in 1917...

 — who would appear in the 1938 Broadway revival — Montagu Love
Montagu Love
Montagu Love , also known as Montague Love, was an English screen, stage and vaudeville actor.Born Harry Montague Love in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, and educated in Great Britain, Love began his career as an artist and military correspondent. His first important job was as a London newspaper...

, and Alison Skipworth
Alison Skipworth
Alison Skipworth was an English stage and screen actress. She was born Alison Mary Elliott Margaret Groom in London....

 in the cast; the movie set Leslie Howard on the path to screen stardom. Outward Bound was the most popular play of its kind, in an era filled with philosophical fantasy works for the stage and screen, including Death Takes a Holiday
Death Takes a Holiday
Death Takes a Holiday is a 1934 romantic drama starring Fredric March, Evelyn Venable and Guy Standing, based on the Italian play La Morte in Vacanze by Alberto Casella.-Synopsis:...

(which was filmed in 1934, and subsequently remade as Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black
Meet Joe Black is a 1998 American fantasy romance film produced by Universal Studios, directed by Martin Brest and starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins and Claire Forlani, loosely based on the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday...

); and The Scoundrel
The Scoundrel
The Scoundrel is a drama film directed by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and starring Noël Coward, Julie Haydon, Stanley Ridges, and Lionel Stander. It was Coward's film debut, aside from a bit role in a silent film...

; in the years preceding the Great Depression, the play seemed to define the zeitgeist of the period, and it endured in popularity right up through the advent of World War II. Warner Bros. made a partly successful attempt at updating the play to the Second World War in the form of Between Two Worlds (1944), directed by Edward A. Blatt and starring John Garfield
John Garfield
John Garfield was an American actor adept at playing brooding, rebellious, working-class character roles. He grew up in poverty in Depression-era New York City and in the early 1930s became an important member of the Group Theater. In 1937 he moved to Hollywood, eventually becoming one of Warner...

, Eleanor Parker
Eleanor Parker
Eleanor Jean Parker is an American screen actress. Her versatility led to her being dubbed Woman of a Thousand Faces, the title of her biography by Doug McClelland.- Early life :...

, and Sydney Greenstreet
Sydney Greenstreet
Sydney Hughes Greenstreet was an English actor. He is best known for his Warner Bros. films with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, which include The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca .-Biography:...

 (as the Examiner).

None of Vane's other works, including Time Gentlemen, Please!
Time Gentlemen, Please!
Time Gentlemen, Please! is a 1952 British comedy film directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Eddie Byrne, Hermione Baddeley, Raymond Lovell and Sid James.-Cast:* Eddie Byrne as Dan Dance* Jane Barrett as Sally* Robert Brown as Bill Jordan...

, Marine Parade
Marine Parade (play)
Marine Parade is a musical play by the playwright Simon Stephens with music by Mark Eitzel. It was premiered in the 2010 Brighton Festival....

, Falling Leaves, Overture, and Man Overboard, ever found the popularity of Outward Bound. This play remained popular with college theatre groups into the 1960s, well past Vane's death in Hastings in 1963 at age 75, and thanks to television showings of Between Two Worlds, it remained out there in some form before the general public. Outward Bound also served as the unofficial inspiration for the made-for-TV movie Haunts of the Very Rich (1972), directed by Paul Wendkos
Paul Wendkos
Paul Wendkos was an American television and film director....

, and it was still being revived by professional regional theatre companies throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.


External links

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