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Five Came Back may not be the best B picture ever made, but it is a superior example of one, almost in a way the ideal B in terms of what's done with the subject matter. It's a standard enough story of several people stuck in an isolated setting,--in this case the jungles of South America--and how they cope with their predicament. The story is similar to the one in The Lost Patrol, and is similar to many war movies such as Bataan and Sahara; it was even remade (badly) by the same director, John Farrow, many years later under a different title. A plane carrying twelve people crashes in the jungle. After looking over the damage it is determined that the plane can be made to fly again, but it can carry no more than five people. The problem is that not too far off is a tribe of head-hunting Indians; whoever is left behind will almost certainly face a horrible death. Eventually the passengers' numbers are whittled down by various factors, and the character who seemed early on the most sinister undergoes a remarkable transformation. This is not a deep movie, nor, as a study in character is it remarkable, though the characters are far better realized than in most films, let alone second features like this one. I can't help but think that Five Came Back was designed as a sort of small or experimental A picture. It was a surprise hit when it came out and put director Farrow on the map in Hollywood. But he was an up and comer anyway, a screenwriter and husband to actress Maureen O'Sullivan. Although leading man Chester Morris had pretty much become a B actor by this time, he is fine as usual (one can easily imagine Clark Gable playing the role in a Metro A version). Lucille Ball has a good part, and so does Allen Jenkins, much softer than usual here. C. Aubrey Smith is prominently featured, which again makes me wonder just how B this picture really is. The jungle setting, like the story, is quite obviously artificial, which is no way detracts from the film, since we expect fake jungles in thirties movies anyway. Overall, the technical side of the movie is more than good enough, and since RKO produced it, there is a special quality here hard to pin down; for want of a better term I'll call it artistic, as opposed to slick, which is what most studio movies were. This artistic aspect of the film gives it a gravitas that it almost certainly wouldn't have had had it been made elsewhere. It's a good show, thoughtful and moving at the same time.
I first saw this movie in 1939 when I was eight years old... and had never
forgotten it! I viewed it again a few years back and enjoyed it as much if
not more than the first time.
I was very much surprised when seeing it again I realized that the tough talking "shady lady" that I remembered so well turned out to be Lucille Ball. I was totally unaware (knowing her only as a comedienne) that she had the range to play this type of character... and play it well at that!
Growing up as a "Boston Blackie" fan, I have always loved Chester Morris in any role, and he was certainly fine here as the planes Captain. I also admired Allen Jenkins role as the tough gangster who looked after his boss' son with unswerving loyalty and kindness. It was a departure from his usual gangster roles.
In short, if you're looking for an Academy Award movie... you won't find it here. Sure as one reviewer stated, its' somewhat predictable... sure its' not a big budget production... but it's very well done none the less.
Bottom line? If you just want a very watchable movie with a little drama, a little action and a lot of emotion, do yourself a favor and rent it or catch it on TV if you can.
I rated this film as a very good B picture when I first saw it 50 years ago - but having seen the remake "Flight to Eternity" (which was not too bad!), the original has gone higher in my estimation. The cast was much better and the effects were just as good as the remake, which is saying a lot when one considers the years in between. The good old stand -by actors like John Carradine, C. Aubrey Smith and Elizabeth Risdon gave it a bit of class, while Chester Morris had his best role, Lucille Ball and Wendy Barrie were surprisingly good, and Joseph Calleia made a good bad guy. This is one of the very few B pictures made so many years ago that has really stood up well, and if you get the chance to see it on Video or on TV, do not miss it - it is most entertaining.
A small plane, flying over the untracked reaches of the
crash lands into the jungle. Twelve people are on board
eleven survive. Even if the plane can take-off again, which
far from certain, there is only fuel enough to carry five
safety. Who will leave and who will stay to face certain
from the watching headhunters? Who would you choose?
Thus the premise of this fine little adventure thriller, in which we get to know the eleven very well. Some will rise to nobility & self-sacrifice, others will sink to cruel cowardice.
In the cast: Lucille Ball, Chester Morris, Wendy Barrie, Patric Knowles, John Carradine, Allen Jenkins, Joseph Calleia & Sir C. Aubrey Smith.
Time grows short. The tension mounts. Who will survive?
I never tire of seeing this film. "Five Came Back" has a reasonably simple
premise: twelve passengers and crew on an airliner flying from the United
States to Panama are stranded in a remote South American rain forest after
storm drives their aircraft off course. They must struggle to survive in
this harsh wilderness and repair their crippled aircraft before the local
headhunters get them.
The film follows the profound impact the crash and its aftermath has on each of the characters. Performances are solid and motivations, though obvious, are logical and well presented. This film has a lot working for it, not the least of which is an excellent cast and fine director and screenplay. For those interested in a classic drama with a touch of suspense and adventure, "Five Came Back" is a wonderful choice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Possible spoilers -
Like the other critics, I have to say that this is not a great movie. After all, it is a 'B' film. But like Bob Griese, it gets maximum mileage out of an average arm. I love this movie. Joseph Calleia is superb as the revolutionary. Does he go through a transformation? No. The Spenglers simply bring out the best in him. Being educated and experienced in life, the elderly couple is able to understand and appreciate Mr. Vasquez. This is a highly-principled man who acts on his convictions and the Spenglers are attracted to that. While the young heir (played very well by Patric Knowles) is closer to them socially, the prevailing circumstances cause the decency of the Spenglers to repel him. The heir is so selfish he cannot even see their revulsion for him. The Spenglers give Mr. Vasquez a good world and justify his existence. "If there were more men like you, Mister Spengler", says Vasquez, "there would be less men like me." Over the years, the Vasquez character has remained a role model for me. The height of decency is reached when Mr. Vasquez announces the bullet count, thus sparing the Spenglers of any unnecessary grief.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No need to recap the plot. Despite the recognizably stock characters
(resourceful pilots, fallen woman, respectable woman, et al.), there's
something nightmarish about the movie as a whole. Maybe it's the
succession of calamities filmed in nourish shadow that's so unsettling.
Certainly the jungle creates an exotic air, which could only have been
done on a sound stage and in "artistic" fashion as one reviewer sagely
observes. Then too, such compelling values only emerge in b&w, with its
angular shadows and shades of graythe stuff of nightmares. Actually,
the plot with its character types undergoing the rigors of survival
rather resembles the John Ford classic of the same year, Stagecoach
One interesting angle is what the movie reveals about the politics and changing perceptions of the rebellious Depression Era. The passengers and crew divide basically into two camps following the crashthose who join the collective effort to survive and those who don't. Tellingly, three types of traditional rejectsthe fallen woman (Ball), the underworld character (Jenkins), and the political radical (Calleia)-- join in and help the collective effort. In fact, the radical sees this cooperative group as a small-scale embodiment of his (socialist?) aims and has no desire to return to "civilization". At the same time, two category types don't join in or help. Also tellingly, both types represent what can be called the "establishment" of the day the rich man's son (Knowles) and the cruel cop (Carradine). Each stays aloof from the others. Naturally we're led to sympathize with the other group, the collective, since it includes the obviously "good" peoplethe pilots, the professor and wife, and the boy, (Barries' respectable woman is more ambiguous since she's initially allied with Knowles).
The fact that the "rejects" join into what might be called the new "cooperative society" implies that they only became rejects because of problems in the old society that Knowles and Carradine represent. As part of a new social fabric, their "truer" characters can be understood to emerge and in positive fashion. Ironically, each is given a new lease on life because of the crash and the new social relations that emerge. In contrast are those who don't join in. As a privileged offspring of the wealthy class, Knowles persists in the selfishly indulgent habits (boozing) he's used to, while Carradine's abusive cop can't adjust to his loss of authority in the new societal set-up. On his own, neither of the two can survive the new circumstances, which is Carradine's fate, alone in the jungle, while the helpless Knowles again becomes a parasite on the work of others.
Now, I don't think the movie stands as a full-blown allegory of the time; however, there's enough resemblance between the character types and national political trends to draw certain parallels. Clearly, Knowles and Carradine parallel the pre-New Deal establishment of entrenched wealth, seen here as parasitical, cruel and resistant to the more cooperative New Deal society ( e.g. creation of social safety net; rise of worker rights). The plane crash mirrors the stock market crash (1929) in removing the power base of the old regime and casting its two survivors adrift, but at the same time, creating fresh opportunities for change. Of course, radical political thought (socialist, communist, anarchist) was more prominent than usual during the unstable Depression and is treated sympathetically in the character of Calleia. He not only commits an act of noble self-sacrifice, but also shapes the future by deciding who stays and who goes. It's also revealing that he and the professor who "understands" him form a bond, paralleling the New Deal's alliance with the academically based Brain Trust that guided administration policy. Both men are seen in the movie as sacrificing themselves for a better future for others.
We can't be sure what the future for the Five who come back will be, and I agree that the movie ends too abruptly. The parallels also trail off at this point, though Jenkins' softened underworld character could stand-in for the public's general deference toward bank robbers in particular (Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde). To me, Ball's shady lady has no particular 30's parallel, though I may have missed something. Where the allegory really breaks down is with the conspicuous absence in the movie of a working class counterpart. Of course, worker demands are what drove societal change during the Depression period. In the movie, the pilots might qualify, but they're really more non-partisan technicians than driving agents of change. In a sense, the counterpart doesn't emerge until after the plane crash when the good people go to work.
I suppose it's not surprising that the movie slants in an anti-establishment direction given Dalton Trumbo's participation as a writer. Later blacklisted as one of the vilified Hollywood Ten, Trumbo made no secret of his radical alignment, and I suspect the parallels in the film reflect many of his leftish sympathies. However that may be, the movie provides both a suspenseful drama and a telling glimpse of changing politics and perceptions, and is well worth catching up with.
Years ago in New York City I saw the re-make of this film Back from
Eternity which was broadcast on WOR TV's Million Dollar movie program.
For most of you too young to remember WOR was an RKO station and had
access at the time to the entire RKO film library. Films would be run
as much as five times a day for a week, like a movie theater.
Back from Eternity was fine, but Five Came Back was really something special. Fortunately RKO had those old King Kong jungle sets and used them for this film. Cut down the cost considerably.
No big names in the cast either. Lucille Ball was not a big name at the time she made it and she's light years from Lucy Ricardo in this. She's a cynical good time gal who's been hurt by one man too many. Chester Morris started the sound era in some A product at MGM, but now was at the B picture level. But they and the rest of the cast nicely fill their roles.
The plot is simple. Morris and co-pilot Kent Taylor are flying a small passenger airline over South America and are forced down in the middle of a rain forest. Some patch work repairs are done. But the plane won't get off the ground with a full load. Some choices have to be made.
But because Joseph Calleia gets a hold of a gun he winds up making the choices. He's a political prisoner being taken to his execution, escorted by policeman John Carradine. With native headhunters all around and them having killed a couple of the passengers already, time is critical.
It's a good film, but if you see either this one or the remake it will be spoiled should you have an opportunity to see the other later.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The last time I saw this movie was over 40 years ago when it was aired on
the Million Dollar Movie on channel 9 in NYC. Some of you may remember
Million Dollar Movie - on Saturday and Sunday they would play the same
continually all afternoon. We kids would watch any number of movies over
The one I remember the most is Five Came Back. What a great movie. Even though it has been more than 40 years since I've seen it, I can still remember the great ending: the tough guy (who was not really the bad guy he let on to be) being asked by the elderly husband to shoot him and his wife rather than face the terror of the head-hunters waiting in the shadows. And the tough guy agreeing and telling the old man he had 3 bullets left in his revolver to take care of them all (when the audience sees there are only two). He shoots the couple as they clasp in their final embrace and bravely awaits his fate as the scene fades out. Wow.
Twelve passengers in a twin-engine plane crash-land in a rain forest just east of the Andes. While the two pilots attempt to fix the aircraft, the travelers get to know each other. Fast-paced drama rolls right along, with the usual cast introductions handled this time with flair and flip sarcasm (Lucille Ball, apparently playing a tart, keeps getting put down by the others but takes all the criticism in stride!). Film is extremely compact, but this hinders it in the end as the final sequence doesn't feel fully played-out and the last shots are disappointing. Otherwise, well-scripted (Dalton Trumbo and Nathanael West are just two of the writers credited), acted with high style and briskly directed by John Farrow, who later remade this story as "Back From Eternity". *** from ****
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