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"Three Came Home" is a forceful and absorbing adaption of Agnes Newton Keith's 1947 best-selling account of her three wartime years with her small son in a North Borneo prison camp. Unfortunately, however, the makers of this film have placed an undue emphasis on the spectacular and more terrifying aspects of Mrs. Keith's imprisonment and, in doing so, have underplayed realism for the sake of melodrama.
Mrs. Keith's story tells how she and her two-year old son were separated from her husband, a British official in North Borneo, and placed in a Japanese concentration camp from early 1942 until liberation in 1945. In describing Mrs. Keith's ordeals, Director Jean Negulesco strings together a series of horrowing experiences, such as the massacre of a group of out-of-bounds captives, but fails to take sufficient note of the less dramatic, everyday hardships of prison camp life. Very seldom does one get a feeling of the hopeless monotony and emptiness which must have been as trying to the prisoners as the occasional brutalities.
In the part of Mrs. Keith, Claudette Colbert is at last emancipated from the kind of role where she has to choose between George Brent and a career. She gets the chance to have a miscarriage, sweat out intermittent attacks of malaria, crawl on her back under a barbed-wire fence, gasp and stagger through the jungle, fight off a would-be assaulter, get beaten, slapped, and spit upon. Miss Colbert does all these things convincingly and manages as well to brig charm and warmth to the scenes with her husband and little son.
"Three Came Home" is remarkably fair in its treatment of Japanese soldiers. Seesyue Hayakawa, particularly, gives a skillful, moving performance as the Japanese colonel who is a strange combination of kindness and cruelty.
Darryl F. Zaunck has taken great pains to achieve technical accuracy. Background shots were taken in North Bornce and fantastic quantities of jungle flora was shipped to Hollywood to make authentic looking sets. If Producer-Scripter Nunnally Johnson and Director Negulesco had lived up to the standards of Mr. Zaunck, Miss Colbert, and Mr. Hayakawa, "Three Came Home" might have been a great movie as well as an exciting and moving one.
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