Danger infested jungle? Check. Damsel in distress? You know it. Stylized heroes and cringe worthy villains? Absolutely. These and many other tried and true cinematic cliches are proudly on display in 1939’s Five Came Back, an archetypal RKO Radio Pictures disaster story said to be the forefather of the now popular genre. And as you can guess from the not so subtle title, Five Came Back. But who? The story revolves around the events of a plane crash; en route to Panama, a plane goes down in a fierce storm and plunges violently through the thick canopy of the Amazon jungle. When the plane crashes, all aboard are left to scratch about and fend for survival in the jungle, with the usual love and drama and intrigue craftily interwoven. Relationships bud and dwindle under the jungle sun, and the heroes struggle in earnest to repair the downed jet.
Once there, the story begins to flesh out the individual stories of the intriguing cargo of nine characters, including a beautiful woman with a sketchy reputation, a gangster and his young nephew, an elderly married couple, a convicted anarchist and his handler, and a young couple eloping. And as time passes, each of them must endure their own personal setbacks and triumphs as they attempt to clear a path through the brush and repair the damaged aircraft.
Being an RKO Radio Pictures production, it’s considered somewhat of a B movie, however it plays like a solid blockbuster. Although handily cheesy at times, the plot plays out quite smoothly, the acting is up to par, you really learn to care about the fate of the characters and root for their survival, and the action builds and develops with intensity.
Featuring great early performances by Lucille Ball, Chester Morris, and Kent Taylor, Five Came Back is a must watch for any film aficionado. Check it out!