FIVE CAME BACK was a B-movie, but it helped a young actress, because of her performance, into A-movie roles. That actress was Lucille Ball. Chester Morris also stars, an Academy award nominee, but forever know as Boston Blackie, also stars. A few other actors, those whose face you might recognize, but can’t put a name to, were Allen Jenkins(sidekick to James Cagney among others), Kent Taylor with his pencil thin mustache and rugged physique had the star look, appeared in over a hundred films, but never made the big move, and John Carradine had a significant role.
The plot here is a plane caught in a rugged storm off the coast of South America, an engine goes bad, and they are forced to land in the jungle.
Twelve people on the flight: the pilot Bill Brooks(Morris) and the copilot Joe(Taylor), a young coupe eloping because neither family approved, Judson Ellis(Patric Knowles) and his secretary Wendy Barrie(Alice Melbourne), Mr. Crimp(Carridine) is a bounty hunter delivering an anarchist, Vasquez(Joseph Calleia) to his hanging for five thousand dollars, Pete(Jenkins) and his nephew, Tommy(Casey Johnson)(the boy’s mobster father wanted him out of the way while he conducted some business, which got him killed as the boy listened to the report on the radio during the flight), an elderly couple, Professor Henry Spengler(C. Aubrey Smith) and his wife Martha(Elisabeth Risdon), Peggy(Lucille Ball), and the third crew member, steward Larry(Dick Hogan).
This movie is of it’s time. The co-pilot is attracted to Wendy(unaware at this time of the elopement) and helps her get comfortable with a blanket when the window hangs open and allows in cold air. Lucille Ball’s character casually walks into the cockpit and chats up the pilot. There are two armed men aboard, Crimp and Pete, and no one finds that unusual. A couple of oxygen tanks break loose and hit the door in the storm, knocking it open. One goes out and the small boy is about to follow when Larry the steward heroically grabs him and hands him off. In doing so, he loses his balance and follows the tank out the door.
The title tells you how it ends. But the tale is how they get there. The steward is already gone, reducing the number to eleven people.
They manage to land in the jungle without cracking up, though one propeller is bent slightly. The professor is a botanist and recognizes several plants and knows they only grow in one area of South America: between two mountain ranges and no civilized areas anywhere. There are rumors of a headhunting tribe in that valley though.
Here’s another difference in more modern aircraft. The two pilots believe they can get the engines repaired, but it will take time, a couple of weeks. There’s only about a week supply of food so it’s fortunate there are weapons for hunting.
There’s a lot of tension among the people as well. The elderly couple have been married thirty-five years and no longer close. The rich boy doesn’t want to do anything to help, only drink(he carried a healthy supply of bottles in his luggage) and Wendy soon becomes disallusioned with her fiance.
As the days roll by though bonding goes on as each, except the rich boy pitch in to help. The elderly couple rediscover their early years and become close to the anarchist, the two men playing checkers in their free time. Peggy and Bill Brooks get close as she probes why he seems to dislike women and he reveals that his wife, a wing walker in their barnstorming days, had died in a crack-up. He’d survived.
Tension builds as they hear drums in the distance and two more, Crimp and Pete, are killed with poison darts. A runway had been cleared, extra weight discarded, and the engines were working. the first attempt causes an oil line to give. Once it’s repaired, Bill and Joe realize they’s never take off with nine people. Four will have to stay. They discuss drawing straws as time is running out.
Vasquez takes it out of their hands by grabbing a gun. He makes it clear he’s staying(one method of death isn’t much different from another) and he will decide who goes on the flight. Each one pleas their case if private. The rich boy begs for himself, and not his fiance. He;s rcih and can get good lawyers for Vasquez. The elderly couple decide they want to stay. They have fund themselves and have had a good life. Let the young survive.
The decisions Vasquez makes and one last decision as the natives close in make for a pretty good drama.
For more overlooked movies, Todd Mason is the man to see today over at SWEET FREEDOM.