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Back from Eternity

Back from Eternity (1956) starring Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, Jesse White, Anita Ekberg, Phyllis Kirk, Keith Andes, Gene Barry, Fred Clark, Beulah Bondi

Back from Eternity is a remake of 1939’s Five Came Back, both directed by John Farrow. It’s the story of the crew and passengers of a crippled plane trying to survive in a South American jungle.

Back from Eternity is difficult to review on its own. Not only is it a remake of Five Came Back, but the script is also very similar … Even the dialogue is identical in many parts. Having said that, the remake is enjoyable, but not groundbreaking or original. The acting is fine all around, as is the cinematography, sets, costuming, etc.

It should be said that it takes a while for the film to gather all of the characters to ride on the doomed airplane. Probably too long, but that’s my only criticism of the movie.

Cast of characters

  • Captain Bill Lonagan (Robert Ryan, The Dirty Dozen), pilot of the doomed flight. Formerly a pilot for major airlines. However, after his wife died, he drowned his sorrows, which damaged his reputation.
  • Joe Brooks (Keith Andes, Tora! Tora! Tora!) co-pilot and Bill’s friend. A brave man, who becomes attached to Louise, and defends her from her drunken fiancée.
  • Jud Ellis (Gene Barry, War of the Worlds). Rich young man, escorting his new fiancée. The longer they’re in the jungle, the more obvious his selfishness becomes.
  • Louise Melhorn (Phyllis Kirk, House of Wax). The new fiancée, who has second thoughts about Jud after seeing his true self. She falls for the brave, handsome co-pilot.
  • Vasquel (Rod Steiger, W.C Fields and Me). A repentant political assassin, being taken back to civilization to be executed for his crimes.
  • Crimp (Fred Clark, Auntie Mame). The bounty hunter who’s transporting Vasquel. A nasty individual. He’s interested in the bounty money, not justice. He initially tries to force himself as the leader on the others at gunpoint. Until Vasquel reveals that he’s got the gun, which he gives to Bill.
  • Pete Bostwick (Jesse White, Harvey). A mobster, accompanying the son of his boss. Over time, he reveals a softer side, especially by being protective of Tommy.
  • Tommy Malone (Jon Provost, Lassie TV series). The young boy that Pete’s accompanying. Tommy learns of his father’s gangland execution during the plane ride.
  • Professor Spangler (Cameron Prud’Homme, D. W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln). An elderly professor, accompanied on a research trip by his wife. A nice, competent, and caring man.
  • Martha Spangler (Beulah Bondi, Penny Serenade). The professor’s wife. At first reticent to pitch in, she takes a special interest in Tommy. Likely because their own son died when he was Tommy’s age.
  • Rena (Anita Ekberg, Way … Way Out). A prostitute. She’s somewhat sympathetic. Rena’s a post-war displaced person, unable to get a passport. She’s been taken advantage of by men who forced her into prostitution. But, with Bill, she may get a second chance.

Editorial review of Back from Eternity courtesy of Amazon.com

Rod Steiger as Vasquel in Back from Eternity
Rod Steiger as Vasquel in Back from Eternity

Eleven people crash-land in the jungle, but only five can make it out alive! John Farrow directs this tense thriller, based on his 1939 hit Five Came Back, about airline passengers downed in a South American rainforest. The survivors face hunger, fear and something even grislier: a tribe of headhunters. Their only hope of escape is the partially repaired airliner, so damaged it can only carry five people. But which five? Robert Ryan stars as the doomed plane’s pilot, giving “a typically fine, tormented performance” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out Film Guide). An excellent cast portrays the other survivors, including Rod Steiger as a convicted killer flying to a date with the executioner, ’50s glamour queen Anita Ekberg as a jaded call girl, and veteran character actor Jesse White as a smalltime mobster. Who will come Back from Eternity?