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!
I first caught a glimpse of this gem in the eighth grade, and it was just as poignant back then as it is now. The boiling tension surrounding the murder trial of a young kid, twelve opinionated voices attempting to reach a unanimous conclusion, and the strength and simplicity of the story that empowered it creates an electricity that keeps it relevant. They don’t make them like they used to! Check it out if you haven’t done so already.
I’ve always said that some of the best movies can be seen on a quiet Saturday morning; there’s some good fertilizer in that crisp Saturday morning air that gives blossom to great movie viewing. It’s fun to catch a great picture from start to finish in the gray of the morning before the world wakes up, and before you owe the day any of your time, or anything to anyone. Some of the best films I’ve ever seen have been scoped on mornings just like that, free of burden, free of care, and with a surplus of time. When we were kids, my sister and I made it a goal to watch as many of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 films of all time in one summer; I can’t recall just how many we saw, but we gained some good ground while she was in town. One of my favorites from that summer was 1944’s Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray and Barbary Stanwyck, so I decided to give that old classic a go this morning with my coffee.
Director Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is film noir at its finest; the dialogue was as thick and sultry as the lingering cigarette smoke, the script was as complex and detailed as the bourbon they drank, and the characters were as cool and slick and breezy as a mid May afternoon. The cinematography was a dimly lit tapestry of finely weaved shots that suffused the story with an air of gritty believability, and added a hefty and necessary dose of grim weight to the subject matter. The sturdy Fred MacMurray played Walter Neff, a hot shot top insurance salesman who fell instantly for the brazen and deceptively conniving Phyllis Dietrichson, played icily by Stanwyck. Neff falls hard for the allure of Mrs. Dietrichson, who convincingly lures the haplessly love struck Neff into a plot to knock off her husband after taking out a life insurance policy on him. The venerable Edward G. Robinson, star of a horde of gangster films and early Hollywood gems, played the feisty and meticulously detailed Barton Keyes; a remarkably intelligent Sherlock Holmes-esqe claims adjuster with a knack for sniffing out mischief.
The dark and brooding undertones of the film set a castle solid foundation of deceit, mystery, and intrigue that was so effectively present in the classics of the 40’s and 50’s, and earned the film seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
There’s nothing quite like the feel of the early classics; the attention to sharp dialogue (even if it was laced with gooey mozzarella), the richly layered intensity of the orchestral scores, and the overly dramatic stage-esque acting style combined with a precision lacking in so many of today’s films. I set my sights on Hell’s Angels this morning, the 1930 Howard Hughes masterwork. Hughes, the notorious perfectionist and eccentric in later life, directed and produced the piece at a cost of nearly 4 million dollars, which was the most expensive film production ever made at the time. But I have to say that the money was well spent; the attention to detail and the immensity and daring creativity of the aerial combat shots made for an exhilarating viewing.
The story tells the tale of two brothers, Roy and Monte Rutledge, (James Hall and Ben Lyon respectively), and their high flying exploits as pilots in Britain’s Royal Flying Corp during WWI. Austere Roy contrasted with Monte, who was quite the lecher (Monte joined the corp just to get a kiss from a girl at the recruiting post), but the two went on to serve in the conflict. Roy is deeply in love with Helen (played by Jean Harlow), who isn’t quite who she appears to be, but his love for her plays a pivotal role in the story. The production was originally filmed as a silent picture, but the advent of sound technology led the crew to re-shoot most of the movie using this new technique. Nearly 100 WWI pilots were brought in to fly the planes, with three of them crashing and dying during the filming. The film makes use of groundbreaking aerial camera work and features some of the most thrilling scenes of mock aerial combat filmed; the extent of the scenes is truly remarkable for the era, as quality WWI dogfights are a rarity. Had the film been made today, 90% of it would have been done with CGI, so it’s great to watch a picture with real guts and mechanics. An exciting film done in the old, big Hollywood style, it’s definitely worth a watch even if you’re not a fan of old war movies. If you are, you’d better get on it ASAP.
Stanley Kubrick, a legendary filmmaker of great renown, has been at the helm of some of cinema’s most well-known and iconic pictures; who can forget Lolita (1962), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)? His resume reads like a greatest hits list, the multitude of his work being critically acclaimed and pioneering in their own right. Quite possibly my all-time favorite Kubrick flick, though, is the utter masterwork that is Paths of Glory. Set in WWI, the film’s focus involves the trial of three men accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy after a failed assault on the enemy German positions. Kirk Douglas, a personal favorite, plays the role of French Colonel Dax, a visceral portrayal of a man tasked with defending the accused soldiers, who all face death by firing squad. His character faces the daunting task of proving the unwavering character of his men, while facing the impossible brutality that was WWI.
The film itself is wrought with a tension befitting the backdrop of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, with themes of honor, duty, nationalistic pride, greed, betrayal, family, and idealism laced tightly within. The stark realism on display in the raw and gritty set pieces and the intricately placed details add to the brilliant performances of the actors. The grand scale of the set captured the sheer scope and intensity of the conflict, and the dramatic, solemn tension vividly captured the perilous plight of the condemned men. An outstanding achievement in film from a director and cast known for their remarkable performances.
Check it out!