Verne wants nothing more than to escape from a penal colony located off the northern coast of South America. He tries to involve Julie, a saloon girl, in his plans but she turns him in to the authorities. On Verne's next try, he piggybacks on the escape of six other convicts and runs into Julie again in the process. One of the convicts is a spiritual figure who seems to know what will happen before anyone else. The group attempts to travel through the jungle, board a boat, and make it to the mainland. Written by
Joan Crawford intended to portray her character without any make-up but Crawford later told 'Silver Screen' magazine that she cheated and used Vaseline on her eyelids, eyebrows, and lips to retain moisture. In one scene while using the top of an old tomato can as a mirror Crawford applied brilliantine to her hair. See more »
At one point we see Verne (Clark Gable) escape by jumping out a window into the water. A short while later, on land, he pulls a bible out from inside his shirt to check a map printed inside. As he flips through the pages of the bible, there is no sign whatsoever that this book got wet. This bible - which he carried unprotected - should have shown obvious signs of water immersion (damp edges, soggy paper, etc.) but it appears to be perfectly dry. See more »
I've got an idea, Grideau. Give me twelve hours to get out and put her
in the dormatory. That way everybody's happy.
See more »
Director Frank Borzage ("Seventh Heaven", "Street Angel", "Lucky Star", "The Mortal Storm", "Three Comrades", etc.) was rather famous for making pictures with a spiritual, yet practical edge to them. Here he succeeds once again in Strange Cargo (1940), which almost could have been a precode, it was that good.
The story involves a group of convicts and a prostitute who are making a break from a prison island to gain their freedom and new lives, traveling through dangerous jungles to reach the sea and a waiting boat. Although most of them hate each other at the beginning, strange events cause them to re-examine their lives and even make incredible sacrifices for one another along the way.
The cast is generally excellent, particularly Ian Hunter, who plays the good man, Cambreau, who acts as a Godly peacemaker, a Jesus symbol, to the evil, unsympathetic characters who abound in this film. His character proves that even a mere mortal man with a great and firm faith, a man not a priest or a minister, could lead sinful people to repentance with gentle words from the scripture and from his personal examples of good deeds. Either that, or his character was simply a male angel. The Bible says you can meet angels unawares.
This is one reason why I love the movies from old Hollywood; they weren't afraid to tackle subjects about spirituality vs. sin. Today they don't think sin exists anymore in Hollywood (ha!) so there is no need to moralize about anyone's changed behavior.
Joan Crawford had some good scenes in this film, but it takes awhile for the audience to feel sympathy for her. A couple of times I thought I was watching her again in Rain, a film she hated because it didn't do well at the box office. Joan simply does not strike me as a spiritual person, so she really had to ACT to play a remorseful person who changed for the better. It never really rings true though, although she tried her best.
I did enjoy seeing silent film actress Betty Compson, even briefly, as Joan's friend. How sad that more of her minor sound films have survived, but her silent classics have been lost. She was a very big star in her day, but by the 1930's she was forced into mostly B pictures.
Clark Gable seems an uncouth, rough choice for the prisoner Verne, and his last scene in the boat with Cambreau made me laugh, and I don't feel I should have been laughing at such a dramatic moment. He missed the mark for me. Like Joan, I don't think Gable was a spiritual person either, so they were a good match here, in an odd kind of way. I would really have loved to have seen two other actors play these parts.
Perhaps one of the best performances here is from Paul Lukas, as Hessler, the atheist. It's amazing how quickly I can pick out the atheist characters in films; they seem to have a brittle, angry edge to them, a continual chip on their shoulders, they are never at peace, and Paul displayed these qualities in abundance in this film. He is the only character who refuses to change after his encounters with Cambreau. Watch his face in his last scene and close-up. For one instant he is reconsidering the path he will take, sinner or saint, but then shouts "No!" to himself and walks away angrily into his atheist night. Very powerful and realistic, although sad at the same time.
Others here raved about Peter Lorre's performance as "Pig" but it didn't really impress me. His character seemed like just a silly spider in the background, one that should have simply been stepped on right at the beginning, rather than tolerated for too long. He didn't seem threatening enough to me.
Overall, a fascinating, thought provoking film, not for the squeamish. If you are looking for something different, and you are not afraid to face your own prejudices against people of faith, see Strange Cargo.
24 of 32 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?