Cast & Crew
Rena, a prostitute who has used illegal identity papers to travel from Austria to Las Vegas, is rejected by her boss, who sends her to Sophie Raditz in Boca Grande, South America. On her South American bound plane are retired professor Henry Spanger and his wife Martha, and Pete Boswick, who has been ordered by his mobster boss, Thomas J. Malone, to safeguard his young son Tommy in Boca Grande until he can join them. The plane stops in Panama, where they are to be joined by Jud Ellis, his fiancée Louise Milhorne, and pilots Bill Larnegan and Joe Brooks. Joe is concerned about Bill's apparent dishevelment, but stewardess Maria Alvarez assures him that Bill is a competent war hero who has fallen on low times. Pete, who resents "playing nursemaid" to a small boy, leaves Tommy in Maria's care. When he reads a newspaper report that Malone has been murdered, however, he realizes that Tommy is now an orphan, and races back to the plane to join him. The plane flies to San Dimas, California, where everyone settles into the airport for a long layover. There, Pete leaves Tommy unattended, prompting first Louise and then Rena to fuss over him. Spurned by Louise, Rena approaches Bill at the bar. Irritated by Rena's awareness of his drinking, Bill roughly informs her that she would be better off staying in San Dimas rather than falling under Sophie's grasp. Upon learning that the plane will not take off on time, Ellis confronts Bill, who admits that they are awaiting Vasquel, a murderer who is to be executed in Boca Grande. Soon, Vasquel arrives in the care of Crimp, a brash bounty hunter who takes Pete's gun from him "for safekeeping." In the air, as Joe wonders what the sweet-natured Louise sees in Ellis, Henry and Vasquel converse about the Javaro Indians, headhunters who live in the jungles over which they are flying. As Vasquel describes their grisly methods for shrinking heads, Crimp reads aloud the news of Malone's death, causing Tommy to wonder where his daddy is. A storm soon arises, and although Bill struggles to avoid it, the plane cannot fly high enough to skirt the driving rain. As the passengers grow increasingly nervous, a canister of compressed air bursts into flame, causing Crimp to panic and pull out his gun. Joe is forced to knock out Crimp to restrain him, but soon after another canister slams through the cabin door, tearing it off its hinges. Maria spots Tommy wandering toward the door and as she rushes to save him, the air pressure from the open door sucks her out of the plane. After an engine fails, Bill manages a crash landing with minimal additional damage. In the morning, the storm has cleared and the group surveys the damage, including the broken engine and destroyed radio. Bill announces that they are so far off course that search planes will likely not be able to find them. When Ellis complains that Bill is taking control, Vasquel, who has remained the calmest, points out that by law, the pilot is the highest-ranking member of the group. He then reveals that he has Crimp's gun, but willingly gives it to Bill to help keep the peace. Joe organizes the men to create a signal fire, while Henry and Pete gather food and the women prepare to cook it. Due to Pete's sharp shooting, they enjoy a hearty supper, during which Henry leads the others in reciting The Lord's Prayer. Everyone joins in except Vasquel, who wanders to the edge of the group but listens intently. Six days later, as Crimp hears native drums and grows paranoid, Joe tells Louise his plan to fix the engine, but they are interrupted by Ellis, who is jealous of Louise's attentions and complains that escape strategies are hopeless. Meanwhile, Rena and Bill share a drink, confiding that neither cares about being saved. Their deepening friendship revitalizes them, however, and Bill agrees to drink less and help Joe with his plan. Over the next few days, everyone toils to repair the engine. After Louise spots Rena flirting with Joe, the two women fight in the stream, only to collapse in laughter. Crimp overhears Vasquel reveal to Henry that the Jivaro, who are preparing to attack, will stop drumming just before they ambush the camp. That night, Crimp steals the gun and takes off into the jungle. With no way now to hunt for food, Ellis panics, frightening Tommy. Joe announces that the engine is repairable but now must be rebuilt, news that pleases everyone but Vasquel. That night, Ellis gets drunk, forcing Bill to knock him out, after which Louise indicates to Joe that she is no longer wearing her engagement ring. The next day, Henry and Martha ask Vasquel who he murdered, and the convict reveals that he attempted to assassinate a dictator and hit an innocent bystander. He explains that he left Germany to search the world for freedom, but now no longer believes that "civilization" exists. Finally, the plane is repaired, but soon after, Tommy wanders off into the jungle. When Pete and Rena find the boy standing near Crimp's decapitated body, Pete takes the gun and goes to ward off attackers. Vasquel warns the group that they must leave soon, but Bill refuses to take off without Pete, who soon appears, mortally wounded from a spear. The remaining nine board the plane, but their combined weight causes the engine to fail. At night, as the drumming intensifies, Bill explains that the plane can carry only four adults and Tommy. Realizing that this means death for the remaining four, the group is at a loss to decide who should go, until Vasquel holds them at gunpoint and announces that he will choose. While they prepare the plane, Louise and Joe confess their love for each other, and Bill gives his money to Rena, instructing her to use it to care for Tommy. When Henry and Martha inform Vasquel that, as the oldest members of the group, they will volunteer to stay behind, Vasquel reveals that they have restored his faith in humanity. Suddenly, the drums stop. Vasquel announces that Bill, Louise, Joe and Rena will leave, after which Ellis, infuriated, attacks Vasquel. The convict is forced to kill him, then herds the group into the plane and watches them take off. As the natives approach, Vasquel, with only two bullets left in the gun, shoots the Spangers to spare them from a more horrifying death. Praying, he awaits his fate.
Albert S. D'agostino
D. W. Mercer
Jean L. Speak
Back from Eternity
The Stagecoach-styled line-up of passengers and crew are introduced in an extended prologue that opens on an arrogant, sultry European blonde (Anita Ekberg) whose luxurious lifestyle is seriously curtailed by suspicious "passport problems." She's destined to board a rickety plane from a second-rate airline, bound for a "wide open town" on the Brazilian frontier called Boca Grande, along with a cast of troubled characters in varying degrees of crisis.
There's a doughy gangster (Jesse White) playing nursemaid to the young son of a mob boss on the run, an unsavory entrepreneur (Gene Barry) torn between his girl-next-door sweetheart (Phyllis Kirk) and a big business deal going down in Rio, aging college professor (Cameron Prud'Homme) on a research trip with his wife (Beulah Bondi), and finally Captain Bill Lonagan (Robert Ryan), a legendary pilot turned blithely cynical alcoholic who strolls up to the cabin just in time for the pre-flight check, much to the surprise of his all-American co-pilot (Keith Andes). Their final passengers climb aboard during a fueling stop on the air-travel version of a western way-station: a captured political criminal (Rod Steiger, with a German accent and tropical white linen suit) and a smugly arrogant bounty hunter (Fred Clark) taking him to an appointment with a firing squad.
By the last leg of the trip, the introductions are over and the plot can begin in earnest. The flight is hit by a storm that shorts out the radio and shuts down an engine, and the plane ditches in a tangled valley in an unexplored South American jungle. The co-pilot hatches a plan to repair the engine and fly out, a daring feat that can only be accomplished if Captain Lonagan pulls himself together, but of course there is a twist or two along the way. One of the twists involves a tribe of native headhunters, a bit of information courtesy of the most fascinatingly unsavory passenger small talk you'll ever hear in a fifties film. The pressures of the ordeal and the fear of the unknown reveal the best and the worst in the survivors.
The RKO production was Robert Ryan's final film for the studio, which had launched his career more than a dozen years earlier and helped turn the striking young actor into the sturdy leading man with a shadow of anger and pain behind his dark eyes. Ryan underplays the role of the jaded cynic, who hides his loss and painful past behind a breezy attitude and a weary smile, with a steely certainty. Without raising his voice or pushing the issue of leadership, he establishes authority and respect with calm reason and cool control.
Like Ryan's spiritually beaten pilot, Rod Steiger's philosophical revolutionary is haunted by his past, in his case the horrors of World War II, but his performance couldn't be more different. Where Ryan plays the old-fashioned movie hero of confident restraint, Steiger quietly steals scenes with his lilting Method approach, singing his lines against the grain with sudden starts and stops and dramatic changes in pitch and octave, like modern jazz erupting in the midst of a swing concert. He comes off as a disillusioned idealist turned compassionate Nietzschean activist, oddly charming but potentially threatening even as the acts of sacrifice he witnesses begin to restore his lapsed faith.
Swedish blonde bombshell Anita Ekberg, an actress of ample physical charm but limited range, was being groomed by RKO for Hollywood stardom when she was cast in the role of the decadent fallen woman who discovers redemption and her inner Earth-mother under the adversity of the jungle ordeal. She's fine in the role, but the filmmakers leave no illusions as to why she was cast when they toss in a contrived catfight that sends Ekberg into the water with nice-girl Phyllis Kirk, where they wrestle in clingy, wet garments.
The balance of the cast in Back from Eternity is a mix of familiar character actors and B-list performers. The most recognizable is Jesse White, the memorable character actor from Harvey (1950) but better known to the TV generation as the original Maytag Repairman, played against his image as an unlikely gangster. Fred Clark, who made a career out of stuffy authority figures and comic foils in films such as Sunset Blvd. (1950), A Place in the Sun (1951), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), similarly enjoys a different kind of role as a cocky bounty hunter whose courage cracks under pressure.
The prolific Beulah Bondi, the Hollywood go-to gal for white-haired old mothers and dispensers of homespun wisdom, is perhaps best know for playing Jimmy Stewart's Ma in Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Gene Barry starred in the 1953 The War of the Worlds but made his name in later years on TV as Bat Masterson and Amos Burke on Burke's Law. Phyllis Kirk was Nora Charles to Peter Lawford's Nick in the TV incarnation of The Thin Man. Stiff and stalwart Keith Andes never really broke out of secondary roles and B-movie leads and Cameron Prud'Homme spent more time on Broadway than in Hollywood.
Despite the star casting and RKO's new motto ("The busiest lot in Hollywood"), Back from Eternity was a low budget production for the financially strapped studio, which was hemorrhaging money under the reckless leadership of Howard Hughes. It shows in the largely studio-bound shoot and the obviously manufactured jungle, though what it lacks in naturalism it makes up for in dramatic imagery and an unexpectedly claustrophobic atmosphere. The brief special effects spectacle of the initial crash and the climactic scenes are memorable, thanks to striking miniature work, in an otherwise modest production. The film did little to change the struggling studio's fortunes, however, and Back from Eternity turned out to be one of its final releases before it collapsed for good.
Producer: John Farrow
Director: John Farrow
Screenplay: Richard Carroll, Jonathan Latimer
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Film Editing: Eda Warren
Art Direction: Gene Allen, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Robert Ryan (Bill Lonagan), Anita Ekberg (Rena), Rod Steiger (Vasquel), Phyllis Kirk (Louise Melhorn), Keith Andes (Joe Brooks), Gene Barry (Jud Ellis).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.
by Sean Axmaker
Back from Eternity
Keith Andes (1920-2005)
Born John Charles Andes on July 12, 1920, in Ocean City, New Jersey, Keith been began performing in his teens for school productions and for local radio stations in his hometown. After he graduated with a B.A. in education from Temple University in 1943, he pursued a stage career in earnest, and in 1947 scored a triumph in the Broadway musical The Chocolate Soldier, where he won a Theatre World Award for his performance. That same year, he made his film debut as one of Loretta Young's brothers in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). Although his film career never quite took off, one could certainly envy him for playing opposite two of the hottest blonde bombshells of their generation: first with Marilyn Monroe Clash by Night (1952); and then Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Most Likely (1957).
If Andes lacked the star power to be a consistent Hollywood lead, he certainly had no problems with television. Here, his stalwart presence and commanding baritone made him more than servicable for television through three decades: (Goodyear Theatre, Playhouse 90, The Ford Television Theatre); '60s: (Perry Mason, The Rifleman, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Glynis); and '70s (Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco).
Andes made his last notable screen appearance in the Al Pacino vehicle And Justice For All (1979), before falling into semi-retirement and doing occassional voice work. He is survived by two sons, Mark, Matt; and three grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Keith Andes (1920-2005)
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
ROD STEIGER, 1925 - 2002
From the docks of New York to the rural back roads of Mississippi to the war torn Russian steppes, Rod Steiger reveled in creating some of the most overpowering and difficult men on the screen. He could be a total scoundrel, embodying Machiavelli's idiom that "it's better to be feared than loved" in the movies. But as an actor he refused to be typecast and his wide range included characters who were secretly tormented (The Pawnbroker, 1965) or loners (Run of the Arrow, 1965) or eccentrics (The Loved One, 1965).
Along with Marlon Brando, Steiger helped bring the 'Method School' from the Group Theater and Actors Studio in New York to the screens of Hollywood. The Method technique, taught by Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, insisted on complete immersion into the character's psyche and resulted in intense, dramatic performances and performers. Steiger made his first significant screen appearance as Brando's older brother in On the Waterfront (1954). Their climatic scene together in a taxicab is one of the great moments in American cinema.
It was a short leap from playing a crooked lawyer in On the Waterfront to playing the shady boxing promoter in The Harder They Fall (1956). Based on the tragic tale of true-life fighter Primo Carnera, The Harder They Fall details the corruption behind the scenes of professional boxing bouts. Steiger is a fight manager named Nick Benko who enlists newspaperman Eddie Willis (Humphrey Bogart in his final screen appearance) to drum up publicity for a fixed prizefight. While the boxing scenes were often brutally realistic, the most powerful dramatic moments took place between Steiger and Bogart on the sidelines.
As mob boss Al Capone (1959), Steiger got to play another man you loved to hate. He vividly depicted the criminal from his swaggering early days to his pathetic demise from syphilis. In Doctor Zhivago (1965), Steiger was the only American in the international cast, playing the hateful and perverse Komarovsky. During the production of Dr. Zhivago, Steiger often found himself at odds with director David Lean. Schooled in the British tradition, Lean valued the integrity of the script and demanded that actors remain faithful to the script. Steiger, on the other hand, relied on improvisation and spontaneity. When kissing the lovely Lara (played by Julie Christie), Steiger jammed his tongue into Christie's mouth to produce the desired reaction - disgust. It worked! While it might not have been Lean's approach, it brought a grittier edge to the prestige production and made Komarovsky is a detestable but truly memorable figure.
Steiger dared audiences to dislike him. As the smalltown southern Sheriff Gillespie in In The Heat of the Night (1967), Steiger embodied all the prejudices and suspicions of a racist. When a black northern lawyer, played by Sidney Poitier, arrives on the crime scene, Gillespie is forced to recognize his fellow man as an equal despite skin color. Here, Steiger's character started as a bigot and developed into a better man. He finally claimed a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance as Sheriff Gillespie.
Steiger was an actor's actor. A chameleon who didn't think twice about diving into challenging roles that others would shy away from. In the Private Screenings interview he did with host Robert Osborne he admitted that Paul Muni was one of his idols because of his total immersion into his roles. Steiger said, "I believe actors are supposed to create different human beings." And Steiger showed us a rich and diverse cross section of them.
by Jeremy Geltzer & Jeff Stafford
TCM Remembers - Rod Steiger
The working titles of this film were Portofino and Affair in Portofino. According to a January 9, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, the studio considered Betty Grable for a starring role. As described in March 1956 articles in Hollywood Reporter, the jungle set at RKO Pathé Studios cost $300,000 and included sixty exotic birds. Although March 1956 Hollywood Reporter news items add Liz Silfer and Yma Sumac to the cast, their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Back from Eternity was a remake of the 1939 RKO film Five Came Back, which was also directed by John Farrow and starred Chester Morris and Lucille Ball. Richard Carroll, who is credited with writing the story for Back from Eternity, wrote the original story for Five Came Back. A Mexican version of the story was produced in 1948 under the title Los que volvieron.