A 'Life' magazine article in 20 March 1950 states that there is more of a sympathetic portrayal in this film of the Colonel Suga (Sessue Hayakawa) character than compared with his depiction in the source memoir by Agnes Newton Keith. The article states that Suga saved Keith's husband Harry and was kind-hearted to their children. Paradoxically though, Agnes Newton Keith also hated Suga for the starvation, torture and degradation that he inflicted in the prisoner-of-war camp.
A second unit of four men filmed for four weeks in Borneo starting from the Spring of 1949. They shot background plates, establishing shots, background footage and scenic shots under the direction of cinematographer Charles G. Clarke. Clarke has said that authoress Agnes Newton Keith (whose book this film was based on) provided accommodation for two of the crew. Keith made a cameo in the film and participated in the Borneo shoot.
Writer-Producer Nunnally Johnson wanted this film adaptation of the book by Agnes Newton Keith to be true to the memoir and realistically capture the harrowing ordeal of Keith and her fellow POWs. This unrelenting ordeal included degradation, violence, starvation, torture, and rape. Actress Claudette Colbert playing Agnes Newton Keith in this movie agreed with Johnson's philosophy for the film.
This film was considered by this film's lead actress Claudette Colbert's as one of her best films by her. After filming was complete, Colbert said to this film's director Jean Negulesco: "You know I'm not given to exaggeration, so I hope you believe me when I say that working with you has been the most stimulating and happiest experience of my entire career."
Agnes Newton Keith, the writer of the book that this film was based, wrote a letter about the film and its critical response. The letter was published in 'The New York Times' on 26 March 1950. It reads: "...I find that one or two critics (not 'The New York Times') question why the story was written....I wrote 'Three Came Home' for three reasons: For horror of war. I want others to shudder with me at it. For affection of my husband. When war nearly killed me, knowledge of our love kept me alive. And for a reminder to my son. I fought one war for him in prison camp. He survives because of me....The Japanese in 'Three Came Home' are as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true of the rest of us."
Japanese silent film star Sessue Hayakawa plays the partially-sympathetic character of the cruel Japanese camp commandant Colonel Suga in this movie. It was not common at the time of this movie to see a sympathetic portrayal of an American enemy in a movie about the Second World War.
The Agnes Newton Keith memoir 'Three Came Home' of which this film is based entered best-seller book status in 1947 when it was first published. This movie was made and released about three years afterwards.
Kim Spalding and Kermit Whitfield were announced as being in this movie in the film trade press but apparently their short scene together was cut before the film was released. They had portrayed US Navy officers who encourage Harry and Agnes Newton Keith to desert Sandakan. Apparently though, Whitfield still appears in the film uncredited as Commander Pritchard.
Agnes Newton Keith:
The novelist of whose book this film is based as an English Woman. Keith can be seen in one scene in a process shot standing behind Claudette Colbert who plays her in this film. The scene has Colbert walking along a pier to the Berhala Camp alongside another woman.