Five Came Back (1939)
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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.
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.
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 crash—those who join the collective effort to survive and those who don't. Tellingly, three types of traditional rejects—the 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" people—the 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.
Veteran airman Chester Morris (and Bill Brooks) and co-pilot Kent Taylor (as Joe) announce a slight delay when they are asked to take on detective John Carradine (as Crimp) and his prisoner Joseph Calleia (as Vasquez)...
When the plane crashes in an Amazon jungle thought to be inhabited by hungry head-hunters, the crew must chose only five passengers to return home on their rickety, repaired plane. The director, John Farrow, re-made this as "Back from Eternity" in 1956. The later film has a stronger script, but with performances becoming overly obvious. Here, the swiftness highlights subtlety; for example, note the impassionate love between Mr. Knowles and Ms. Barrie, then how Mr. Taylor telegraphs his interest. The more toned-down tart played by Ms. Ball is superior, but lacks detail. You're well off seeing both versions as they make up for things lacking in each other.
******* Five Came Back (6/23/39) John Farrow ~ Chester Morris, Lucille Ball, Joseph Calleia, Patric Knowles
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.
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?
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.
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.
The story of a set of disparate people trapped in a confined situation isn't a new one, nor was it in 1939 but though quick pacing, a solid screenplay and a talented cast this manages to stand above the usual second string fodder fed to theatres to complete a double bill.
All the performers, some falling stars like Chester Morris some rising like Lucy and some reliable standbys such as Allen Jenkins, are terrific but of course some stronger then others.
C. Aubrey Smith and Elisabeth Risdon as a couple grown apart through their years together but who reconnect during their trials have the most beautiful chemistry, they truly feel like long time marrieds.
The other outstanding performer is Joseph Calleia as the condemned Vasquez. Most well known as a vicious bad guy he is cast similarly in this but with a twist. He's a killer but humane with an intellectual bent, his is probably the film's best performance.
The most famous person in the film now but just another starlet at the time is of course Lucille Ball. If you only know her as that wacky redhead from TV this is a good place to start to acquaint yourself with her filmography. Having worked her way up from bits and extra work to a showcase role in Stage Door and then B-level leading lady roles she displays some of her signature sass but also gives a fine non-jokey performance as a woman of questionable repute.
The picture's quality was recognized at the time of its release turning the modest film into a huge money earner in respect to its budget. Farrow returned to the material about fifteen years later and reworked it slightly into the remake Back from Eternity. That is a decent film also but missing a certain something that makes the original stand out. Well worth watching.
An example for disaster and stranded dramas to come. One of the most memorable classics of the thirties.
Later used by director Alfred Hitchcock in Lifeboat (1943) (and remade by director Farrow as Back From Eternity (1956)), and most recently by so called reality television producers, this popular concept typically utilizes a desert or island locale and oftentimes a shipwreck or airplane accident to strand its passengers, isolated and cut off from civilization. Frequently, there are constraints of food supply or safety which force the survivors to choose a plan of action in order to live or rescue themselves. The initially tantalizing question of who will lead or survive in such circumstances is sometimes surprisingly answered.
The cast is terrific and recognizable to most movie mavens:
Chester Morris plays pilot Bill Brooks, Kent Taylor plays his co- pilot Joe. Patric Knowles plays wealthy young businessman Judson Ellis, who's eloping with his secretary Alice Melbourne, played by Wendy Barrie. A surprisingly beautiful young Lucille Ball plays a fallen woman, Peggy Nolan. Joseph Calleia plays an anarchist named Vasquez that John Carradine's bounty hunter Mr. Crimp is escorting back to justice (to be hung) in his native South American country. Allen Jenkins plays a gangster's hit man named Pete, who's taking his mob boss's son Tommy Mulvaney, played by child actor Casey Johnson (in his film debut), to safety outside of the United States. During the flight, it's learned that Tommy's father was killed in a gang shooting. C. Aubrey Smith plays retiring botany professor Henry Spengler, and Elisabeth Risdon plays his longtime wife Martha. Selmer Jackson (among others) appears uncredited, as an airlines official.
Their Coast Air flight leaves from municipal airport, from a nondescript Southern California city, en route to South America. The Silver Queen is of the sleeper variety and some of the passengers have preconceived notions about their fellow travel mates. After landing at a stopover in Guatemala, during which Joe expresses an interest in Ellis's attractive blonde fiancée Alice, the pilots soon find themselves in a storm as their journey continues. After losing one engine, they decide to crash land in a forest, during which no one is seriously injured. Professor Spengler surmises that they've landed between two mountain ranges such that their only way out is through the air. Bill estimates that the plane can be repaired with 3 weeks. They solve their 1-2 week food supply problem by becoming vegetarians, though Pete is able to shoot the occasional deer. Unfortunately, the professor is able to identify, per the native drums heard, that cannibals are in the forest, making their need to repair the plane and get out of there more urgent.
I won't spoil who survives and who doesn't, nor how, but the film's title tells you that five will "come back"; these have to be chosen, among those that aren't killed in other ways, because the plane will have a limited runway on which to take off in order to clear the trees, so weight is at a premium. During the course of the weeks it takes to repair the plane and clear this runway, the true characters of the passengers are witnessed and their relationships to one another change.
What a nice, little B-film! Five Came Back was quite a nice watch. Director John Farrow should get a lot of the credit. He crafted a tight film with a very small budget and was able to inject well placed tension and atmosphere. There are few wasted moments in the 75 minute runtime. Every scene matters. I also like the way he and the writers turned societal norms on their head. The passengers you would expect to do well in the jungle, don't. Those who may have had problems in polite society end up being the heroes. It's a very interesting look at how adverse conditions can change people. The ending is very satisfying. The decisions about who will and who will not be on the plane lead to some very interesting drama.
Five Came Back is helped by having an outstanding cast. The most immediately recognizable name is Lucille Ball. This was long before she became Lucy. Here, she's the tough-talking sexpot. Allen Jenkins, Joseph Calleia, and Chester Morris are also standouts. Finally, has there ever been a more British looking actor than C. Aubrey Smith? One look at the man and you can all but hear God Save the Queen playing in the background. Overall, some strong performances.
I'm not sure I had ever heard of Five Came Back before watching it the other night. But it's a solid film that I plan to revisit again in future. My 8/10 is probably about right given the quality of the film and the enjoyment I got out of it.
We watched this film because (a) my daughter recommended it and (b) because it starred Lucille Ball. At that time Ball was an up and coming starlet. However, as we all know, she never succeeded in becoming a movie star. Instead, she became Lucy, which made her a television icon.
The movie stars many famous and near-famous actors of the 1930's--Chester Morris, Wendy Barrie, John Carradine, and Joseph Calleia. We don't know them very well, but, in 1939, moviegoers would have been familiar with their work.
The film has a "strangers-forced-together" plot, very much like "Stagecoach." It's interesting that both movies were made in the same year. Another interesting fact is that John Carradine had a major role in both of them. I assume that Carradine couldn't have worked on both films simultaneously, so one had to precede the other. Given the similarities of the plots, I wonder whether one borrowed from the other, or whether it was just coincidence.
For the record, Lucille Ball did a competent, professional job as the "bad girl." It wasn't clear to me whether her character had been a call girl or a "kept woman." The Hays code prohibited depiction of "a woman selling her virtue," so probably that's why her situation was never clarified. Incidentally, the parallel role in "Stagecoach" was portrayed by Claire Trevor.
This film was produced 80 years ago, so, of course, it's dated. Probably the hardest hurdle for us watching it today is that the indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest are referred to as savages and cannibals. This is painful in 2019, but it was probably matter-of-fact in 1939. Remember, they were still cranking up airplane engines in the same way that people cranked up Model-T's. We can't go back and change the movie. We just have to note the problem and move on.
This film carries a decent 7.1 IMDb rating. I think it's better than that. If you like 1930's B/W movies, find it and see it. If those movies aren't for you, just let this one pass.
This is Lucille Ball scrapping by as a B-level actress. She wasn't always a comedic icon and a Hollywood titan. She plays a sexy smart side character. She's young and uses her sex appeal. The jungle is obviously interior but it is loaded with plant life. I expected lots of cannibal natives but it's not until the last half hour that the natives attack. They are off-screen and the first hour lacks any thrills. It's a well-made B-movie that exceeds its limitations.
SYNOPSIS: An airplane carrying twelve passengers and crew is forced to crash-land in the Amazon jungle.
NOTES: Although produced on a "B" picture budget of only $225,000, this movie turned out to be a "sleeper" — a movie that to the studio's surprise took off with both critics and public. Box office receipts in the U.S.A. and Canada alone were well over a million dollars, returning RKO a handsome profit of $262,000 from this market alone, after paying all advertising, print, studio overhead and distribution costs.
COMMENT: Despite the naivety of its script and the lapse into needless and unconvincing moralizing at the conclusion, this is a superior version of the tale than the remake, "Back To Eternity", despite the fact that both were directed by John Farrow. Here his direction has an invigorating freshness due to his long takes using fluid camera movement, and the pace with which the characters are introduced and dialogue delivered that contrasts with the stale professionalism of the re-make.
Lucie Ball is delightfully seductive, and all told we much prefer this cast to that of the re-make with the possible exception of Rod Steiger who has the Joseph Calleia part, a role for which he is not really suited. Interesting that the plot of both films is exactly the same, as are the characters and that all Latimer did was to rewrite the dialogue. He may have made it a bit more convincing, but he also made it less interesting.
Although an obvious model is used for the crash itself, the sets are fairly convincing. Notice that Farrow uses Lewton's later much used device of not showing the headhunters until the final shot and then only their feet as the camera tracks through the foliage and then sweeps up to show the plane flying into the clouds, a corny but effective fade-out.
Now to this movie, it has a good story. Lots of characters and we get to know them. The main problem is in the acting. It was OK, but not great. Lucile Ball and John Caradine should have been used more. Maybe a bit more in the writing. The best actor here was Joseph Calleia as Vasquez. All the actors did a professional job.
The ending where he tells the professor he has enough bullets for everyone (3 left) so the headhunters will not capture them alive, to avoid torture. He open the chamber of the gun and there we see 2 bullets. He shoot the professor and his wife dead, then we hear and see some glimpse of the headhunters approaching, not clear, but it's them. And we know what will happen to Vasquez. This is great stuff. The middle section is a bit slow. And the acting/writing could have been more energized. But this is still a solid movie.
Rating is a B, for a B movie, 7 stars.
During film's annus mirabalis that was 1939 Five Came Back elbows it's way into the line-up with this adventure thriller that will you keep you guessing up until the picture's final minutes as the natives move in on passengers and crew in the midst of group catharsis.
With his cast of B-listers and character actors director John Farrow has the luxury of eschewing the star treatment and placing everyone on the same tenuous level of being offed at any time. The cast with its variety of pasts, all out of their comfort zone begin to morph to their environment far from the polite society they come from and from it roles are reversed. Acts of nobility and doing the right thing surface from the unexpected. The cast is uniformly adequate though C. Aubrey Smith and Joseph Calleia deserve mention for some very sober powerful moments.
Farrow also amps up the tension by never showing the faces of the headhunters, allowing the jungle in its entirety to be the threat, the unseeable more unspeakable to our imaginations. He also in its brief running time manages to define character while keeping suspense high as you ponder who will make the final cut.
In this 75-minute movie from director John Farrow (father of Mia), a group of passengers are stranded in a Central American jungle when their plane crashes en route from L.A. to Guatemala. Holding out no hope for a rescue, they take it upon themselves to fix the plane and fly to safety while the various dramas introduced with the characters play out. They succeed in fixing the plane just in time for a swarm of savage headhunters to come calling; the hitch is that the plane can only carry five of them to safety, meaning four have to stay behind.
The headhunter and "who gets left behind?" plot twists are the most talked up in reviews of the movie, but really these events comprise only the last 5 minutes of the film. We never even see the headhunters, aside from a stray leg or arm peeking through Cedric Gibbons' impressive jungle set. And even the dramatic threads of these characters' stories aren't that dramatic. After all, a screenplay can only do so much in 75 minutes. The appeal of the film is the cast, featuring a fetching Lucille Ball, who doesn't get to do much but mope around the set and drop hints about a hard-luck-girl backstory, but who nevertheless displays a tremendous screen presence. C. Aubrey Smith and Elisabeth Risdon make probably the biggest impression as an older couple whose romance is rekindled as a result of being stranded in a jungle together. And Joseph Caiella is impressive as well as an anarchist on the run who meets the bleakest fate of any of them.
The most fun to be had from the movie is the antiquated peek it gives into air travel from long ago, when passengers could mosey into the cockpit anytime they wanted to chat with the pilots. It's also a hoot to watch Ball stroll around the jungle campsite in a luxurious bathrobe. I wouldn't mind being stranded in the wilderness if the wilderness were as comfortable as it's portrayed in this film.
Came across this late at night on TCM. I would probably never have discovered this film on my own.