11 June 2005 | silverscreen888
Nearly a great movie; a memorable, powerful B/W "stunt movie"
I classify "Back From Eternity", John Farrow's remake of "Five Came Back" as a 'stunt' film. This is because it isolates human beings for the purpose of analyzing a range of character types, instead of connecting them to a larger world of potentials. The original filmed version of this interesting story was shorter and more direct; the attempt by John Farrow and his writers in 1956 was to turn a first-rate adventure film into a dramatic one; and they nearly succeeded, by my standards. The problem in the remake I suggest lies in the writers having turned the lead, Bill, played by Robert Ryan, into a man who cannot be trusted not to drink alcohol, even though he is a pilot. This problem with the ethical central character, otherwise a man of great ability and experience, makes the man, played by Ryan, who lacks the charisma of his second, Joe Brooks, played by the immensely-powerful Keith Andes, decidedly inferior to his second in voltage, interest and ethical consistency. Some of the other casting, that of sex-symbol non-actress Anita Ekberg as a saloon girl and Rod Steiger doing a partially-unsuccessful foreign accent, makes the actors and their parts less acceptable than they deserve to be. Many actors in this film do admirable work; and it is a filmed narrative filled I believe with wonderful scenes both before and after the crash of the aircraft aboard which most of the cast flies. Andes and Phyllis Kirk are I suggest unforgettable lovers, played off the obnoxious character impersonated capably by Gene Barry. The elder actors from Fred Clark to Beulah Bondi are all excellent, and the plot line--involving an attempt to repair one of the downed plane's engines to escape a jungle inhabited by headhunters--is particularly exciting. Especially this is so I argue because with one engine and a short runway, everyone in the downed party cannot be flown to safety. Who will decide who lives and who dies--and on what basis-forms a strong counterpoint to the film's basic examination of how ethical considerations affect the way people live in normal situations. This is a well-directed and very well-remembered film; one that is extremely underrated and I suggest worth watching many times over. But its greatest asset is Keith Andes who made a near miracle as usual, out of slim opportunities.