Three Came Home

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Three Came Home
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Nunnally Johnson
Written by Nunnally Johnson (Agnes Newton Keith, autobiography)
Starring Claudette Colbert
Patric Knowles
Florence Desmond
Sessue Hayakawa
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Milton R. Krasner
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox
Release dates
  • February 20, 1950 (1950-02-20)
Running time
106 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1.9 million (US)[1]

Three Came Home (1950) is a post-war film made by Twentieth Century-Fox, based on the memoirs of the same name by writer Agnes Newton Keith. It depicts Keith's life in North Borneo in the period immediately before the Japanese invasion in 1942, and her subsequent internment and suffering, separated from her husband Harry, and with a young son to care for. Keith was initially interned at Berhala Island near Sandakan, North Borneo (today's Sabah) but spent most of her captivity at Batu Lintang camp at Kuching, Sarawak. The camp was liberated in September 1945.

Adapted and produced by Nunnally Johnson, directed by Jean Negulesco, the film starred Claudette Colbert in the lead role.

The film is now in the public domain and so is available to watch in its entirety online at no charge.[2][3][4][5][6]


American-born Agnes Keith (Colbert) and her British husband (Patric Knowles) live a cushioned colonial life in North Borneo with their young son in 1942. After the Japanese invasion, they are interned and then taken to separate prison camps, one for men, the other for women and children. Amid the brutality of the internment camp, the camp commander Lieutenant-Colonel Suga (Sessue Hayakawa) is respectful to Mrs Keith because he is familiar with her work, and is shown to be kind to the children even when his own family has died in Hiroshima.


The women prisoners were portrayed by Drue Mallory, Carol Savage, Virginia Kelley, Mimi Heyworth and Helen Westcott.[7]


A second unit filmed locations in Borneo for four weeks.[8]

After principal photography was complete, Colbert told Negulesco "You know I'm not given to exaggeration so I hope you believe me when I say that working with you has been the most stimulating and happiest experience of my entire career."[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon the film's February 1950 release, Bosley Crowther said the film "bids fair to stand as one of the strongest of the year"; according to him:[7]

"Miss Colbert's performance is a beautifully modulated display of moods and passions and explosions under most inhuman and unnatural stress and strain. And Mr. Hayakawa's calculation of the Japanese colonel is a rare accomplishment. But Patric Knowles is also excellent as the British husband of Mrs. Keith from whom she is early separated, and Florence Desmond is superb as a cheerful inmate in the prison camp. Indeed, a little fellow named Mark Keuning contributes immeasurably, too, as the 4-year-old son of the author to whom she desperately clings through her ordeal. Played against realistic settings, which vividly convey the meanness of the jungle prisons, and directed by Jean Negulesco for physical and emotional credibility, Three Came Home is a comprehensive film. It will shock you, disturb you, tear your heart out. But it will fill you fully with a great respect for a heroic soul."

Three Came Home was Life magazine's "Movie of the Week" for March 20, 1950.[10]

According to Variety, "Agnes Newton Keith's deeply affecting autobiog [sic] ... has been turned from print to celluloid without any easing of the book's harrowing impact"; "Many of the scenes are tearjerkers in the better sense of the word."[11]

In August 1976, Leslie Halliwell described the film as "[w]ell-made, harrowing", assigning it ** (2 stars out of 4), a rarely granted high rating.[12]

In May 1985, and timed to correspond with Colbert's return to Broadway in a revival of Aren't We All?, Howard Thompson, reviewed the film in anticipation of its "rare TV showing" on cable's USA Network. He called it a "a peak in Miss Colbert's long and distinguished Hollywood career" and a "strong, compassionate film vividly evokes the horror and bleak futility of war." The film depicts "desperate women's fortitude, tenacity and love... Miss Colbert's honest, fervent portrayal - the same Miss Colbert now magnetizing Broadway in an airy, drawing-room bubble - mirrors it all."[13] Thompson repeated his endorsement of the film a dozen years later when it was on the History Channel.[14]

See also[edit]


Specific citations:

  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  2. ^ "Three Came Home : Jean Negulesco : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Comedy Drama Mystery Action Stock Footage ; Public Domain Films Stock Footage Library. (T titles)". Buyout Footage. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  6. ^ "Pan American Video". Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  7. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (February 21, 1950). "Moving Story of War Against Japan, Three Came Home, Is Shown at the Astor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  8. ^ "Three Came Home (1950) - Overview". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  9. ^ Passafiume, Andrea. "Three Came Home (1950)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  10. ^ "Three Came Home: Film Tells a Grim, True Tale of Life in a Japanese Prison". Life (magazine). March 20, 1950. pp. 61ff. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  11. ^ "Three Came Home". Variety. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  12. ^ Leslie Halliwell. Halliwell's Film Guide to 8,000 English Language Films, Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1977; Granada, 1979.
  13. ^ Thompson, Howard (May 19, 1985). "Critics' Choices: Cable TV". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 
  14. ^ Thompson, Howard (June 29, 1997). "Movies This Week". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-23. 

General references:

External links[edit]