FIVE CAME BACK (director: John Farrow; screenwriters: Jerome Cady/Dalton Trumbo/Nathanael West/story by Richard Carroll; cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca; editor: Harry Marker; music: Roy Webb; cast: Chester Morris (Bill Brooks), Lucille Ball (Peggy Nolan), Wendy Barrie (Alice Melbourne), John Carradine (Mr. Crimp), C. Aubrey Smith (Professor Henry Spengler), Allen Jenkins (Peter ‘Pete’), Joseph Calleia (Vasquez), Kent Taylor (Joe, the Co-Pilot), Patric Knowles (Judson Ellis), Elisabeth Risdon (Martha Spengler), Casey Johnson (Tommy Mulvaney), Dick Hogan (‘Larry’, the Steward), Pat O’Malley (‘Mike’ Mulvaney, Tommy’s Father); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Sisk; RKO; 1939)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
In 1956, director John Farrow (“The Saint Strikes Back”) remade Five Came Back for RKO as Back from Eternity, starring Robert Ryan and Anita Ekberg. Five Came Back was a low-budget black-and-white disaster film that was snappily paced and the narrative by Dalto Trumbo, Jerome Cady and Nathanael West was tight. It’s based on a story by Richard Carroll. The public richly supported it at the box office. The plot has by now become all too familiar about a passenger airplane crash in hostile territory and how the cliché characters handle their misfortune, but back in the day it was still fresh. There’s also the beautiful moody noirish photography of the jungle by Nicholas Musuraca that adds to the chilling atmosphere.
There are nine passengers and a crew of three that board at night in Los Angeles the Silver Queen for a flight to Panama City. Veteran pilot Bill Brooks (Chester Morris) is in charge, his co-pilot is Joe (Kent Taylor) and Larry (Dick Hogan) is the steward. All the passengers have dramatic reasons for taking the trip. Peggy Nolan (Lucille Ball) is a tart who wishes to start over in some place new. Wealthy businessman Judson Ellis (Patric Knowles) is eloping with his pretty blonde secretary Alice Melbourne (Wendy Barrie), as his parents object to the marriage. The elderly botany Professor Henry Spengler (C. Aubrey Smith) and his nagging wife Martha (Elisabeth Risdon) are trying to find the love they once had for each other by going on a field expedition. Private detective Crimp (John Carradine) is determined to return his sentenced-to-death anarchist prisoner Vasquez (Joseph Calleia) to a South American capital to collect a $5,000 dollar reward. Tommy (Casey Johnson) is a young son of a California gang leader who is being chaperoned by mobster Pete (Allen Jenkins) so he can get the kid out of harm’s way as he’s been targeted by a rival gang.
When a heavy storm conks out one engine and forces the plane down in an unknown dense jungle, the voyagers must learn to live together and survive off the land while Bill and Joe labor to repair the craft–it’s the only chance of getting out of the jungle alive. Their true natures are revealed as the anarchist turns out to be a noble revolutionist, the detective a drunken creep, the wealthy businessman a cowardly weasel, the tart a loving person with a heart of gold, the mobster reveals his tender side, the secretary takes a new look at what she wants out of life and the elderly couple regain their former love. After twenty-three days the plane is repaired, but it can only bring back five. The ones who remain behind face certain death from approaching headhunters. The tension is in who will be given a chance to start their life over again and who will be left behind to die in the wilderness, and the one doing the choosing is Vasquez because he holds a gun on them.
REVIEWED ON 4/25/2006 GRADE: B –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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