Anita Ekberg and Robert Ryan in Back from Eternity (1956)


(John Farrow; screenwriters: Jonathan Latimer/from a story by Richard Carroll; cinematographer: William Mellor; editor: Edna Warren; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Robert Ryan (Capt. Bill Lonergan), Rod Steiger (Vasquez), Anita Ekberg (Rena), Phyllis Kirk (Louise), Beulah Bondi (Martha), Cameron Prud’homme (Henry), Gene Barry (Jud Ellis), Keith Andes (Joe), Jon Provost (Tommy), Jesse White (Pete), Fred Clark (Crimp), Adele Mara (Maria Alvarez); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Farrow; RKO; 1956)

“Why this film was made was to see if it could save failing RKO additional expenses and make money the easy way through a remake.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An exact remake of John Farrow’s other disaster film, Five Came Back (1939). It has a bigger budget but is also in black-and-white. Why this film was made was to see if it could save failing RKO additional expenses and make money the easy way through a remake. It didn’t. RKO soon went out of business.

The only difference between the two films is that the original seemed fresher at the time, had a more economical and hardhitting script, and was some 22 minutes shorter. The plot concerns a small passenger plane bound for Boca Grande, S.A., that gets caught in a severe storm and crash-lands in South America in the heart of headhunter country (there’s nothing like those headhunters of the Javaro Indians to give one the creeps). All the passengers are cardboard characters. Anita Ekberg is a prostitute from Austria who is sent by her Las Vegas boss on the flight to Boca Grande. Also aboard are retired professor Cameron Prud’homme and his wife Beulah Bondi, and mobster Jesse White. He’s to chaperone his mobster boss’s young son Jon Provost to Boca Grande until he can join them. In their next stopover in Panama they are joined by nasty businessman Gene Barry, his sweet fianc√©e Phyllis Kirk, and down-and-out pilot Robert Ryan and his co-pilot Keith Andes, and airline stewardess Adele Mara. Also joining the flight is convicted murderer Rod Steiger, who is to be executed in Boca Grande for killing a bystander when the German tried to assassinate a Banana Republic dictator. Steiger is under the guard of unpleasant bounty hunter Fred Clark. When a storm arises, it causes the plane to fly low. This causes a canister of compressed air to burst into flame, which makes some of the passengers panicky and causes a fatality when it forces the exit door open. Ryan crash-lands in the jungle when an engine fails. The damage is not too great and he’s able to repair the plane within six days, but the problem is that only 5 of the 9 survivors can get aboard. The question becomes, who is to be left behind. Steiger, as the one holding the gun, decides who is to leave on the plane. Anita provided the visual attractions and Ryan, as a despondent once ace pilot, provides the only detectable acting in the film. It covers the same territory as the original, as the true nature of the voyagers comes to light when they are faced with peril.