For Reel

Five Came Back (1939)
May 21, 2015, 9:52 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Farrow
3 Stars
Five Came BackA prototype for the disaster dramas that would flood the marketplace in the 1970s, Five Came Back is an economically-told programmer that benefits from an irresistible premise and a quality cast. Twelve people are traveling from Los Angeles to Panama when problems strike and they find themselves stranded in a South American jungle. There’s hope of repairing the damages, but as the title would suggest, rescue isn’t in all of their fates. The early airplane scenes are shot with a terrific sense of claustrophobia. When turbulence strikes, director John Farrow stages the action in wide shots so that the audience can see every performer’s reaction and their spatial relationships with one another. The cramped setting is a radical contrast to the vast jungle they’ll soon inhabit. Beyond the adventure thrills, the film suggests that in the wild the true nature of the various personalities will come out. This is explained directly by the wise old professor played by C. Aubrey Smith, who is the first to understand that a convict (Joseph Calleia) soon to be put to death has more to him than pure evil. Similarly, Lucille Ball plays a woman of ill-repute who finds redemption. It’s an endearing, humanistic thought for a film that is saddled with a repressive bleakness starting from the very title, even if it could have been better accomplished with a more understated execution.

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