Five Came Back (1939) Poster

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Compact B
telegonus8 April 2001
Five Came Back may not be the best B picture ever made, but it is a superior example of one, almost in a way the ideal B in terms of what's done with the subject matter. It's a standard enough story of several people stuck in an isolated setting,--in this case the jungles of South America--and how they cope with their predicament. The story is similar to the one in The Lost Patrol, and is similar to many war movies such as Bataan and Sahara; it was even remade (badly) by the same director, John Farrow, many years later under a different title. A plane carrying twelve people crashes in the jungle. After looking over the damage it is determined that the plane can be made to fly again, but it can carry no more than five people. The problem is that not too far off is a tribe of head-hunting Indians; whoever is left behind will almost certainly face a horrible death. Eventually the passengers' numbers are whittled down by various factors, and the character who seemed early on the most sinister undergoes a remarkable transformation. This is not a deep movie, nor, as a study in character is it remarkable, though the characters are far better realized than in most films, let alone second features like this one. I can't help but think that Five Came Back was designed as a sort of small or experimental A picture. It was a surprise hit when it came out and put director Farrow on the map in Hollywood. But he was an up and comer anyway, a screenwriter and husband to actress Maureen O'Sullivan. Although leading man Chester Morris had pretty much become a B actor by this time, he is fine as usual (one can easily imagine Clark Gable playing the role in a Metro A version). Lucille Ball has a good part, and so does Allen Jenkins, much softer than usual here. C. Aubrey Smith is prominently featured, which again makes me wonder just how B this picture really is. The jungle setting, like the story, is quite obviously artificial, which is no way detracts from the film, since we expect fake jungles in thirties movies anyway. Overall, the technical side of the movie is more than good enough, and since RKO produced it, there is a special quality here hard to pin down; for want of a better term I'll call it artistic, as opposed to slick, which is what most studio movies were. This artistic aspect of the film gives it a gravitas that it almost certainly wouldn't have had had it been made elsewhere. It's a good show, thoughtful and moving at the same time.
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Some films just stick in your mind...
coltt31 July 2002
I first saw this movie in 1939 when I was eight years old... and had never forgotten it! I viewed it again a few years back and enjoyed it as much if not more than the first time.

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.
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Better than the remake
dougandwin12 November 2004
I rated this film as a very good B picture when I first saw it 50 years ago - but having seen the remake "Flight to Eternity" (which was not too bad!), the original has gone higher in my estimation. The cast was much better and the effects were just as good as the remake, which is saying a lot when one considers the years in between. The good old stand -by actors like John Carradine, C. Aubrey Smith and Elizabeth Risdon gave it a bit of class, while Chester Morris had his best role, Lucille Ball and Wendy Barrie were surprisingly good, and Joseph Calleia made a good bad guy. This is one of the very few B pictures made so many years ago that has really stood up well, and if you get the chance to see it on Video or on TV, do not miss it - it is most entertaining.
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If there were more men like you.......
jkholman2 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Possible spoilers -

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.
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A Closer Look at the Political Subtext
dougdoepke5 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
No need to recap the plot. Despite the recognizably stock characters (resourceful pilots, fallen woman, respectable woman, et al.), there's something nightmarish about the movie as a whole. Maybe it's the succession of calamities filmed in nourish shadow that's so unsettling. Certainly the jungle creates an exotic air, which could only have been done on a sound stage and in "artistic" fashion as one reviewer sagely observes. Then too, such compelling values only emerge in b&w, with its angular shadows and shades of gray—the stuff of nightmares. Actually, the plot with its character types undergoing the rigors of survival rather resembles the John Ford classic of the same year, Stagecoach (1939).

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.
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Five Came Back from Eternity
wes-connors31 July 2012
Passengers get ready for the ill-fated flight foreshadowed in the film's title "Five Came Back". Handsome businessman Patric Knowles (as Judson Ellis) and pretty blonde secretary Wendy Barrie (as Alice Melbourne) are going to elope. Looking like either a movie star or a classy call girl, beautiful Lucille Ball (as Peggy Nolan) wants to straighten up and fly right. Elderly botany professor C. Aubrey Smith and his wife Elisabeth Risdon (as Henry and Martha Spengler) want to enjoy their twilight years. As his gangster father is threatened with extinction, cute little Casey Johnson (as Tommy Mulvaney) is shuttled to safety with henchman uncle Allen Jenkins (as Pete)...

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
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A well crafted, thoughtful film.
JHC323 October 1999
I never tire of seeing this film. "Five Came Back" has a reasonably simple premise: twelve passengers and crew on an airliner flying from the United States to Panama are stranded in a remote South American rain forest after a storm drives their aircraft off course. They must struggle to survive in this harsh wilderness and repair their crippled aircraft before the local headhunters get them.

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.
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Suspense In The Jungle
Ron Oliver19 January 2000
A small plane, flying over the untracked reaches of the Amazon, crash lands into the jungle. Twelve people are on board - eleven survive. Even if the plane can take-off again, which is far from certain, there is only fuel enough to carry five to safety. Who will leave and who will stay to face certain death from the watching headhunters? Who would you choose?

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?
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UPICKEM23 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** The last time I saw this movie was over 40 years ago when it was aired on the Million Dollar Movie on channel 9 in NYC. Some of you may remember the Million Dollar Movie - on Saturday and Sunday they would play the same movie continually all afternoon. We kids would watch any number of movies over and over.

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.
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Nice and Suspenseful
bkoganbing9 September 2005
Years ago in New York City I saw the re-make of this film Back from Eternity which was broadcast on WOR TV's Million Dollar movie program. For most of you too young to remember WOR was an RKO station and had access at the time to the entire RKO film library. Films would be run as much as five times a day for a week, like a movie theater.

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.
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Top survival drama with rushed, unsatisfying climax...
moonspinner5524 April 2006
Twelve passengers in a twin-engine plane crash-land in a rain forest just east of the Andes. While the two pilots attempt to fix the aircraft, the travelers get to know each other. Fast-paced drama rolls right along, with the usual cast introductions handled this time with flair and flip sarcasm (Lucille Ball, apparently playing a tart, keeps getting put down by the others but takes all the criticism in stride!). Film is extremely compact, but this hinders it in the end as the final sequence doesn't feel fully played-out and the last shots are disappointing. Otherwise, well-scripted (Dalton Trumbo and Nathanael West are just two of the writers credited), acted with high style and briskly directed by John Farrow, who later remade this story as "Back From Eternity". *** from ****
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Pleasant surprise
TC-46 February 2001
Due to the good reviews I watched this movie the other morning and was pleasantly surprised. It was a black and white movie made 62 years ago and I found it better than lots of new movies. My wife hates old b/w movies but when I read her the storyline she agreed to watch it with me and surprisingly she liked it. It shows what people are really like when you have to live with them rather than just a casual aquaintance. How many people noticed that the airline pilot and co-pilot had been the movie Boston Blackie and the tv Boston Blackie?
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Another winner from Hollywood's golden year
jjnxn-129 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Quite wonderful little B picture that shows the strengths of the studio system. Being shot on a low budget with a director, writers and actors under contract this and many, many others could be churned out economically and at low cost. Because of those facts studios would turn out many small pictures, some real stinkers but occasionally a gem like this.

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.
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Must see prototype for "stranded" ensemble movies. Excellent script and crisp direction
amerh8 March 2014
Very enjoyable thriller, with a strong ensemble cast. Distinguished by great actors who make the most of their small roles. I was specially impressed by Lucille Ball, surprisingly serious in the role of the "bad woman", and very attractive. John Carradine also shines as the contemptible bounty hunter and Joseph Calleia as his insightful and wise death row prisoner. The budget was very low and the sets show, but John Farrow's direction is very brisk and keeps the suspense and interest up through the short running time. Great dialogue, very well written exchanges between the characters, unsurprising given the three great talents on the script. The rhythm of the film benefits from the crisp timing: if they remade the movie today, it would probably be twice as long, and less interesting.

An example for disaster and stranded dramas to come. One of the most memorable classics of the thirties.
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A winner for RKO
chas3stix10 September 2005
I just watched this film on Turner Classic Movies.This is the first time I can remember seeing this film.I'm glad that the Turner organization didn't try to ruin this film by colorizing it.Some movies just should be watched in black and white,IMHO. I think it was much better than the remake. The cast all did a yeoman's job,to boot. The special effects were cheesy by today's standards but probably high tech for 1939. This movie should be required viewing by budding actors and directors. Some movies made today contain a lot of big named stars but the movie just doesn't come together. The stellar cast of Five Came Back really worked together and made the movie a success.
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Terrific survival adventure, later remade by the same director as Back From Eternity (1956)
jacobs-greenwood7 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Directed by John Farrow, with a story by Richard Carroll that was scripted by Jerome Cady, Dalton Trumbo, and Nathanael West, this above average adventure drama is one of the first to put an ensemble cast of characters from varied backgrounds in peril - the heart of the story shows how persons' real character traits are revealed in a survival environment.

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.
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Early example of all-star suspense/disaster.
SpaceComics17 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Five Came Back is probably the first major example of a suspense disaster film about a plane crash with an all-star cast, filmed 30 years before Airport, and still gripping. It also features one of Lucille Ball's first major roles, and is one of the few movies you can find starring Chester Morris, who was a popular star in those days (he played Boston Blackie in a series of B-movies in the '40s). Morris and Kent Taylor are pilots of an airliner flying assorted passengers to South America. Included on board are an anarchist (Joseph Calleia) being extradited by a mercenary (John Carradine); a wealthy society playboy (Patrick Knowles) and his secret fiancée (Wendy Barrie); a retiring botanist (C. Aubrey Smith) and his wife (Elizabeth Risdon); a small boy in the care of a gangster (Allen Jenkins); and of course Lucille Ball in a serious role. In a violent storm the plane is forced to crash-land in the Amazon jungle, and they all ten survive the landing, but as the title hints, a suspenseful situation arises as they attempt to repair the plane.
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Who will live and who will die?
bensonmum23 August 2019
The Quick Pitch: Twelve people board a plane that crashes in the South American jungle. While they work to fix the plane and with angry natives closing in, the group realise the plane will generate enough thrust for only five passengers. Who will live and who will die?

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.

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A solid melodrama still worth seeing, although it's from 1939
Red-1251 August 2019
Five Came Back (1939) was directed by John Farrow. On of the writers was Dalton Trumbo, a skilled writer who was later blacklisted.

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.
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masonfisk19 May 2019
A well mounted 1939 adventure yarn which would be the blueprint for future disaster films to come like the Airport series or even The Poseidon Adventure. A cross section of character actors are on a flight from the States to South America when during an engine outage, the plane goes down in the Aztec region prompting the survivors to work together to repair the plane, learn something about themselves & hopefully pull all the disparate strings together before an unseen tribe of natives knock them off one by one. Featuring Lucille Ball (?) & John Carradine, this movie is a delight just from an film aficionado's standpoint since we get to see where a lot of the later stories got their DNA from.
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pre-success Lucille Ball
SnoopyStyle20 January 2018
Various people board a plane flying to Panama. They encounter a storm and crash land in the jungle rumored to be populated with headhunters. They must hack an airstrip out of the jungle, repair the aircraft, and survive. It doesn't help when the jungle's inhabitants attack. One engine is damaged and the aircraft can only carry five people.

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.
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John Farrow's break-through movie is still a great achievement!
JohnHowardReid13 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright 23 June 1939 by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. New York opening at the Rialto: 4 July 1939. U.S. release: 23 June 1939. Australian release: 28 September 1939. 75 minutes.

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.
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Good Story. Decent acting, cinematography, music. Excellent ending.
Bababooe26 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I heard about this movie while reviewing the user reviews of the original Star Trek, Galileo Seven. It looks like Star Trek took a lot of ideas from this movie, especially about the logical choice made at the end of who will survive. Mr. Spock's command!

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.
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Making the cut.
st-shot28 January 2017
The airliner Silver Queen on its way to South America is forced to make an emergency landing on a remote island. Blown off course and with no way to communicate with the outside world it is left up to the survivors to dig themselves out of this hole if they are ever to see the civilized world again. Also lending a sense of urgency are the distant drums of the island headhunters. Only five will be allowed to leave if they ever get the plane airborne again.

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.
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Stranded in the Jungle? Be Sure to Bring Your Bathrobe
evanston_dad23 September 2016
"The Flight of the Phoenix," Robert Aldrich's plane crash survivor story from 1965, was based on a novel. If it hadn't been, I might have thought it was a loose remake of "Five Came Back."

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.

Grade: B-
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