THREE CAME HOME(director: Jean Negulesco; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/based on the book of the same name by Agnes Newton Keith; cinematographers: Milton Krasner/William H. Daniels; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Hugo Friedhofer; cast: Claudette Colbert (Agnes Keith), Patric Knowles (Harry Keith), Sessue Hayakawa (Colonel Suga), Florence Desmond (Betty Sommers), Sylvia Andrew (Henrietta), Phyllis Morris (Sister Rose), Mark Keuning (George), Howard Chuman (Lt. Nekata); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nunnally Johnson; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1950)
“Harrowing war tale.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
It’s based on the moving autobiographical book by Agnes Newton Keith, and is written by producer Nunnally Johnson. It’s set during WW II and tells of an American author, Agnes Keith (Claudette Colbert), her 4-year-old son George (Mark Keuning), and her British husband, colonial officer Harry Keith (Patric Knowles), who are interned by the Japanese in Borneo for the war and are brutally treated in the prison camp by their arrogant Japanese captors. Jean Negulesco (“Three Coins in the Fountain”/”Daddy Long Legs”/”Boy on a Dolphin”) does a fine job directing this harrowing war tale, making it convincing and unflinching.
Agnes Keith and her husband are trapped in Sandakan, the capital of British North Borneo, during the Japanese invasion on December of 1941. Unknown to her husband, Agnes is pregnant with her second child. The family is unable to be evacuated, and in May, 1942, the Japanese occupy the island. Agnes is singled out and brought to the man now in charge, Colonel Suga (Hayakawa), who tells her he read her book on Borneo and is an admirer. He also asks for an autographed copy, but refuses to do any favors for her. Agnes suffers a miscarriage. Soon all Europeans are evacuated to prison camps and the men and women are imprisoned separately.
Both camps are on the island of Berhala, each nearby, where they can pass notes to each other if they are willing to take the risk of being severely punished if caught. Conditions in the prison camp are squalid and the prisoners are degraded and poorly fed. George suffers from malaria, but receives no medical help.
The women prisoners are removed to a faraway camp that is run by the sadistic Lt. Nekata (Howard Chuman). Through a series of episodes during the next two year period we observe the cruel treatment the prisoners undergo, and how much hardship both Agnes and Harry are going through. By the war’s end, three years after the couple were imprisoned, it seems only a miracle that the physically ailing couple survived such barbaric treatment.
It’s a passionately told true story of a noble, good-hearted woman who courageously kept both her son and herself alive despite being attacked by a Japanese guard, tortured and faced with starvation while doing forced labor in the rice fields. The power of this gripping story is superbly conveyed by Colbert’s riveting performance. The realistic drama shockingly but accurately portrays how rotten were the prison camps during the Japanese occupation of Borneo, and serves as a wake-up call for those foolish enough to believe that it’s all right for their side to apply torture but not the other side.
REVIEWED ON 3/20/2008 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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