Often cited as a "model" B picture, Five Came Back is set in motion when the twelve-seat passenger plane "Southern Star" crashes into a treacherous South American jungle. With a hostile tribe of headhunters drawing ever closer, pilots Bill (Chester Morris) and Joe (Kent Taylor) race against time to repair the crippled plane and rescue themselves and the nine other survivors, who begin to fight for survival. These include: spineless socialite Judson Ellis (Patric Knowles), his embittered wife Alice (Wendy Barrie), elderly scientist Spengler (C. Aubrey Smith), Spengler's devoted spouse Martha (Elizabeth Risdon), trollop Peggy (Lucille Ball), condemned anarchist Vasquez (Joseph Calleia), Vasquez' detective-captor Crimp (John Carradine), likeable mob henchman Pete (Allen Jenkins), and gangster's son Tommy (Casey Johnson).
Eventually, it becomes apparent that the repaired plane can only carry five passengers; the others must remain and fight hostile natives. Suffice to say that the ending is determined by random acts of courage, cowardice, and unexpected self-sacrifice. Scripted by Nathaniel West and Dalton Trumbo and brilliantly directed by John Farrow, Five Came Back was a major critical and financial success for the beleagured RKO. Director Farrow remade the film in 1956 as Back From Eternity.