Three Came Home
|Three Came Home|
|Directed by||Jean Negulesco|
|Produced by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Written by||Nunnally Johnson (Agnes Newton Keith, autobiography)|
|Screenplay by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Based on||Three Came Home
by Agnes Newton Keith
|Narrated by||Claudette Colbert|
|Music by||Hugo Friedhofer|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels
Milton R. Krasner
|Edited by||Dorothy Spencer|
|Distributed by||20th Century-Fox|
|Box office||$1.9 million (US)|
Three Came Home is a 1950 American post-war film directed by Jean Negulesco, 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.
American-born Agnes Keith (Colbert) and her British husband Harry Keith (Patric Knowles) live a cushioned colonial life in North Borneo with their young son George in 1942. Keith is the only American in Sandakan. Worried about the rumors surrounding Japanese invasion, Harry asks Agnes if she would leave for the United States along with George. Agnes replies that she would sent George but not go herself. In the meantime, the Pearl Harbor incident takes place. Japanese soldiers led by Colonel Suga (Sessue Hayakawa) capture the place. Suga is fluent in English and has read a book on Borneo authored by Mrs. Keith. During the Japanese invasion of Sandakan, Agnes has a miscarriage. Europeans living there are moved to prison camps. Harry lives in the camp meant for men while George and Agnes live in another camp. After a few days, women and children are taken to another camp.
When Col. Suga is made in-charge of all the camps in the region he visits the one where Agnes lives and asks her to autograph a book's copy he had obtained from her house. Agnes does so. The camp guards are very cruel and oppressive. This is seen when they shoot a group of Australian men who tried to cross the wire fences. One of them attacks Agnes and she complains to Suga, who then asks Lieutenant Nekata to investigate in the matter. However, Agnes is not able to identify her assailant. Nekata again asks her to identify the assailant and after Agnes fails to do so he gives her a document to sign. She refuses to do so and is therefore tortured. In 1945 Japan surrenders and Suga's family dies in the Hiroshima bombing. He is arrested by Australian soldiers and the Keith family finally reunites.
- Claudette Colbert ... Agnes Newton Keith
- Patric Knowles ... Harry Keith
- Florence Desmond ... Betty Sommers
- Sessue Hayakawa ... Colonel Suga
- Sylvia Andrew ... Henrietta
- Mark Keuning ... George Keith
- Phyllis Morris ... Sister Rose
- Howard Chuman ... Lieutenant Nekata
- Patricia O'Neal ... English Woman (uncredited)
- Jerry Fujikawa ... Japanese Soldier (uncredited)
In March 1949, Showmen's Trade Review reported that Negulesco's contract with 20th Century Fox had extended for one year and he will direct the film. Olivia de Havilland was being considered for the lead role. Nunnally Johnson wrote the film's screenplay and also produced it. Milton R. Krasner provided cinematography for the film. Musical score was composed by Hugo Friedhofer. Lionel Newman was the film's music director. Editing was done by Dorothy Spencer. Florence Desmond was filming in Las Vegas when the production company asked her to audition for her role. This was her first co-starring with Colbert. Alan Marshal was cast in April 1949. Shooting started on May 4, 1949 and finished on June 26. A second unit filmed locations in Borneo for four weeks. 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." She had broken her back while shooting for one of the violent scenes. This was the first American film in which Hayakawa spoke his native Japanese language. While filming for the concentration camp scenes, Colbert did not apply any makeup.
20th Century Fox gave the film in a package of 8 to exhibitors, who had the right to cancel out the films not shown. Child psychologist and domestic guidance counselor Peter Blos was hired by the studio to help advertise the film. Under him, an advertisement was designed in such a manner so as to promote the "family" element in the film's story. This advertisement featured in selected publications having a circulation above 30 million. The National Legion of Decency rated the film A II. An alternate title for the film in France was Captives à Bornéo. Response to the previews were positive. A free screening of the film was organized by Illini Union Student Activities during the Union Movie Week in February 1953. Seven Arts Associated included the film in Volume 8 of "Films of the 50's" in 1963.
"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. 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." 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.
A review published in TimesDaily noted that Colbert had played an "infrequent straight dramatic [part]" and praised the production's authenticity. Harold V. Cohen of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised the performances given by the actors and wrote that the story "hits the head and the heart like a whiplash, and lays a chill lump in the throat." He further wrote that the film was "an absorbing saga of the blood and the sweat and the tears which were far removed from the battlefields of World War II". Kaspar Monahan of The Pittsburgh Press wrote that he had "seen no other film which deals so fairly with the Japs, depicted as individuals and not as types." He praised the film's authenticity and the cast members, especially Hayakawa and Colbert. He concluded his review by writing "It should be seen as a tribute to the gallant human spirit." Herb Miller wrote in the Sunday Herald that it was not a "pretty picture" but a "truthful one". He termed the performances fine but praised Hayakawa by writing "Hayakawa dominates every scene in which he appears. He is a characterization that will rank with the best of the season." Mitch Woodbury wrote in the Toledo Blade that the film would "tear out" the viewer's heart. He called it a "finely made", "deftly played" and "realistically directed screen drama", ignoring which "[was] impossible." The Sunday Herald appreciated Colbert's "sincere and memorable performance", the film's authenticity and called it "surprising restrained". However it criticized Negulesco's direction by saying that he "[had] just missed again".
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 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." Thompson repeated his endorsement of the film a dozen years later when it was on the History Channel. Film historian Daisuke Miyao wrote in Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom that Hayakawa's role was similar to the ones he played in silent films. A review published in Movie Makers appreciated the director for "[putting] together an admirably honest drama of war, women and children.
At the 1950 Vichy Film Festival, the film won the Best Film Award and Colbert won the Best Actor Trophy. At the 1951 Freedoms Foundation Film Awards ceremony it was at the 4th place for "Outstanding achievement in bringing about a better understanding of the American way of life".
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Three Came Home.|
- Three Came Home at the Internet Movie Database
- Three Came Home is available for free download at the Internet Archive
- Three Came Home at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Three Came Home at Rotten Tomatoes
- Three Came Home at AllMovie
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