HELLO OUT THERE (1949—unreleased)
Directed by James Whale. Produced by Huntington Hartford. Screenplay by William Saroyan (from his play) and George W. Tobin. Photographed by Karl Struss.
Henry [Harry] Morgan (Photo-Finish). Marjorie Steele (Emily Smith). Lee Patrick (The Wife). Ray Teal (The Husband).
At the time of his final studio film, They Dare Not Love (1941), James Whale was only in his early 50s—prime time for a master director. Unfortunately, his only future professional endeavors were limited to a short for the military (Personnel Placement in the Army), some stage work, and one last cinema curio. In 1941, Henry (Harry) Morgan appeared in the premiere of William Saroyan's one-act drama Hello, Out There in Santa Barbara, and two years later Whale directed Morgan in the play for a production in Hollywood. Then, in 1949, millionaire Huntington Hartford hired Whale and Morgan to repeat their chores for a film that would spotlight Marjorie Steele, who Hartford was promoting as a new dramatic find (and would soon marry). It was projected that Hello, Out There would be part of a multi-story work a la the British Quartet, and Whale also served as art director for the film, which was shot at the KTTV studio in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Hartford did not feel that Hello, Out There, as completed, presented his protegee in a favorable light, and shelved it. (Hartford's eventual feature, Face to Face, contained two segments and was released by RKO in 1952.) Fortunately, Whale's last film did survive, and while it's no masterpiece it's quite recognizably a part of its director's body of work. Between the low budget (about $40,000) and the director's theatrical bent, there is no real attempt to open up the play, and at points the skillful Morgan still seems to be scaling his performance to a live audience instead of a close-up camera. However, Ms. Steele's performance is not disgraceful by any means, and Lee Patrick makes the most of her short, nasty cameo. In any case, the main value of Hello, Out There rests less with Saroyan's overwrought naturalism than with Whale's staging and compositions and strikingly odd-angled design, all of it clearly from the same artist who gave us the birth of the Bride of Frankenstein and the “Ol' Man River” sequence in Show Boat. While this film is mainly a footnote to a great career, it does provide us with one final example of Whale's skill—and may make many of us long for all the fine films he never made.