CAROLE LOMBARD - My Favorite Actress

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: Five Came Back (1939)

Another great film from that golden year of 1939 that got overshadowed by the big guns of Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, The  Wizard of Oz and others. But this little taut thriller is really good and deserves to be on that list of 1939's best films. Twelve people are aboard Coast Air Line's flagship the Silver Queen enroute to South America when the airplane encounters a storm and is blown off course. The people include Lucille Ball as Peggy, a woman with a past. C. Aubrey Smith as Professor Spengler with his wife Martha (Played by Elizabeth Risdon). Also on board is Wendy Barrie as Alice, a secretary secretly eloping with her boss/fiancee Judson Ellis (played by Patric Knowles). Then there is the always reliable Allen Jenkins as racketeer Pete who is escorting Tommy, the son of his boss back to America. Also on board is John Carradine as Crimp, who is escorting the criminal Vasquez (played by Joseph Calleia) to stand trial for his crimes. And finally the pilots Bill (Chester Morris) and Joe (Kent Taylor).

The pilots are able to land the plane into a remote jungle, but it is populated with headhunters. The pilots have to repair the plane before they can try to take off and it's a race against time. As the headhunters drums signal they are preparing to attack. Days turns into weeks and most everybody pull their own weight except for Crimp and Ellis who become full on alcoholics. Everyone else remains strong and vigilant. The top performances are by Calleia who actually turns out to be a fair and actually likable man. He is at ease with the current situation because he knows once the plane if fixed, he is that much closer to being hanged for his crimes. Lucille Ball is very good in a rare dramatic role that makes her tarnished lady trying her best to be a better person, despite the resistance from others. Wendy Barrie is also very good as the lovestruck secretary who manages to put her alcoholic fiancee in check. Allen Jenkins is tops as Pete, who believes in honor, despite being on the wrong side of the law. Morris and Taylor are very good in their roles as the pilots. And C. Aubrey Smith is excellent as the Professor who is very knowledgeable about the current situtation. The final twist at the end is a shocker and makes one take value of life and choices. There are a few deaths before then but when the climax comes you will be completely enthralled.

The running time is only about 75 minutes long but it is a taut, tension filled 75 minutes. It's to the director's skill and credit that we actually never see the headhunters but we know they're coming thanks to those constantly banging drums. Five Came Back is a top notch thriller that deserves more attention now since it didn't receive it back then. A pleasing little B thriller from yesteryear.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I saw this at the L.A. County Museum of Art many years ago and found it so spooky! It really had me on the edge of my seat. Not many people seem to have heard of this one so I especially enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Best wishes,


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