Friday, April 16, 2021

Claudette Colbert is a prisoner of war in “Three Came Home”

Three Came Home (1950) is an American film about prisoners of war under the Japanese in North Borneo (now Sabah) and Sarawak during World War II. The film was directed by Jean Negulesco and starring Claudette Colbert, Patric Knowles, and Sessue Hayakawa. The film is based on the memoir Three Came Came Home, by Agnes Newton Keith. Keith was a journalist and novelist. 

Agnes and Harry Keith were living a comfortable life in North Borneo with their young son. Harry Keith was English and Conservator of Forests and Director of Agriculture for the government. The Japanese invaded Sandakan on January 19, 1942. Wives and children were separated from their husbands and fathers and held captive in prison camps near each other. When Mrs. Keith is singled out by Colonel Suga, the head of the camp, she has no idea what may be in store for herself and her family.

Sessue Hayakawa and Claudette Colbert

Jean Negulesco (1900 - 1993) was a Romanian-American movie director during the classical Hollywood period. He is most famous for directing Jane Wyman to her Oscar-winning performance in Johnny Belinda (1948), How to Marry a Millionare (1953), Titanic (1953), and Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). He was one of the first directors to film in the then-new widescreen process called Cinemascope. In fact, he was called “the first real master” of the process. Other films he directed include Road House (1948), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Boy on a Dolphin (1957), and The Best of Everything (1959).

Claudette Colbert (1903 -1996) was an American stage, film, and television actress. She is perhaps best known for her role as Ellie Andrews in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). For her role in that film, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was nominated two other times in that category. Colbert got her start in the theater where she played a variety of ingenue roles. In 1928, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures where she quickly made a succession of movies. Her breakout role came in 1932 in The Sign of the Cross (1932) starring Fredric March and Charles Laughton. In 1934, she made three films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: Imitation of Life, Cleopatra, and the eventual winner, It Happened One Night. No one had been able to match that record. Other popular films include I Met Him in Paris (1937), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), Midnight (1939), The Palm Beach Story (1942), Since You Went Away (1944), and The Egg and I (1947).

Patric Knowles (1911 -1995) was an English actor and got his start in British cinema during the early days of talking pictures. On arriving in America, he was signed by Warner Bros. At that studio, he had roles in The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, It's Love I'm After (1937), and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) again with Flynn and de Havilland. During the 1940s, Knowles worked at RKO, Universal, Paramount Studios. Knowles continued working in film and television until the early 1970s.

Sessue Hayakawa (1886 -1973) was a Japanese actor and matinee idol during the silent era in Hollywood. Hayakawa was so popular that he was earning $3500 a week in 1919. He also had his own production company from 1918 - 1920. Hayakawa made films in Europe, America, and Japan during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. He later became a character actor with roles in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Swiss Family Robinson (1960).

Sessue Hayakawa during his days as a silent film idol 

Three Came Home trivia:
  • Claudette Colbert was signed to play Margo Channing in All About Eve, but during a scene in Three Came Home, she injured her back and had to drop out, allowing Bette Davis to play the iconic character.
  • Colbert considered this one of her best film roles and performances.
  • The Fox film crew went to Borneo and filmed for four weeks to get background footage.
  • Agnes Newton Keith’s memoir was a best-seller in 1947 when it was first published.
  • Olivia de Havilland was originally announced for the role of Keith.
  • Agnes Newton Keith has a small cameo in the film; she’s the very tall woman carrying two suitcases off of the dock at Kuching, Sarawak.

To watch the movie on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on April 20, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. To RSVP click here. Once you RSVP, you’ll get an invitation and Zoom link to join the discussion.

Why watch this film?
  • The film is based on a true story of a family’s survival as prisoners of war.
  • It features a great performance by Colbert who wore no makeup and lost weight so her characterization would be more realistic.
  • Colbert hated to have her face filmed from the right side; for this film, she put her vanity aside.
  • Released only five years after the end of the war, the film gives a fairly balanced portrayal of the Japanese commander Colonel Suga.

Discussion questions:
  1. What did you think of the movie overall? Did it seem realistic?
  2. Was Colbert’s performance believable?
  3. What did you think of the supporting cast? Did anyone stand out?
  4. Did anything surprise you?
  5. How did this film compare to Stalag 17?

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