BACK FROM ETERNITY (1956). Director: John Farrow.
In this widescreen if black and white remake of Five Came Back (which was also directed by John Farrow), a motley group of passengers survive a crash in the South American jungle, only to realize that only a few of them can fly away and there are headhunters right around the corner. Back from Eternity could have been a terrific, gut-wrenching movie if only all of the dumb "Hollywoodisms" had been excised from the script. True, I've watched plenty of silly if entertaining dumb Hollywood movies, but what makes Eternity worse is that it had so much potential. True, the final few minutes are suspenseful, the acting isn't bad, and the conclusion has a certain power, but otherwise it's not a very good movie. Anita Ekberg [Screaming Mimi] got the lion's share of the publicity, and aside from being beautiful and busty, she's not a bad actress, either [by Hollywood standards, at least], although her American career didn't last long. (She appeared in this before her famous role in Fellini's La Dolce Vita.) Robert Ryan as the possibly tippling pilot is perhaps less effective in this than in other films, but Rod Steiger offers the best performance as a condemned man being brought back for execution. Phyllis Kirk and Gene Barry are effective enough as an engaged couple who have problems, and Beulah Bondi and Cameron Prud'homme are fine as an elderly professor and his wife. Jesse White is Jesse White.
SPOILER ALERT: Now let's talk about those "Hollywoodisms:" Fred Clark is taking Steiger back for execution, but he uses no handcuffs on a supposedly dangerous felon. Kirk and Ekberg have a completely ridiculous "cat fight" over a man that serves only to show the latter in a wet, clinging outfit. Worse still is the whole business with the lovely stewardess, Maria (Adele Mara of Night Time in Nevada). First let's make it clear that Maria is a friend and co-worker of the pilot and his co-pilot (Keith Andes), and is an attractive and really nice person. Saving a little boy (Jon Prevost) from falling out of the plane when a tank smashes open the door, she herself falls to her death in a horrifying moment. There is no scene when Andes tells Ryan what happened. After the plane lands in the jungle, Ryan says to Andes "everyone all right?" to which Andes replies that the passengers were only a little bruised. There's absolutely no mention of brave Maria and her horrible death throughout the rest of the movie, and these are her co-workers! [A somewhat similar sequence occurred in another plane crash drama The Crowded Sky.] Admittedly, the passengers are having their own problems, but even during a quiet, contemplative moment much later on, when the pious professor and his wife lead everyone in the Lord's Prayer, nobody offers up a prayer for Maria. It's unbelievable, cold-blooded and illogical scenes like this (or the lack of them) and others that make me classify Back From Eternity less as drama than as schlock. Farrow's direction, although the plane scenes are well-handled, also does little to disguise/detour around some moments of really bad acting.
Verdict: The final quarter has its moments but then there's the rest of it ... **.