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|Index||40 reviews in total|
A beautiful movie with a mostly A-list cast, far superior to the source novel. "Strange Cargo" has almost non-stop action, yet the central allegory is never lost in action, nor is the storyline swamped by allegory. In less capable hands it might've been a maudlin movie, but instead is a finely crafted parable where a mysterious Christ-like figure (Hunter), introduced while taking Clark Gable's place in a prisoner head-count, accompanies and guides a mixed-nut boatload of escapees from Devil's Island. He's never an intrusive or moralizing figure, nor does he employ clever wordplay or ecstatic preachments, but assists each of the escapees as each individually confronts the internal corruption that led them to Devil's Island -- and the film's makers have the courage to show some of the men dealing with that confrontation, and some turning away from it, without giving judgment to the rightness or wrongness of either choice. This movie proves the potential for making a truly solid, entertaining and non-mawkish movie on orthodox Christian themes without the foolish baggage of robes and sandals (or insipid and sermony scripts). The movie's only disappointment is that Peter Lorre is not one of the escapees but a loathsome bounty hunter who has too few scenes. His character doesn't appear in the book, but deepens the parable. Overall, "Strange Cargo" is a movie that can be enjoyed for the plot alone, but which courageously adds layers, like those of an onion, that can be savored by the discerning. It's astounding this movie hasn't become a "cult" favorite, but perhaps its tendency to prompt introspection isn't much appreciated these days.
What a shocker! Even as a committed Gable fan, I was not prepared for
simple greatness of this movie. Why it is not considered to be a Gable
classic, I do not know.
Ploughing the ground for later epics, such as McQueen's Papillon, this tale manages to touch a deeper and more fertile vein. Combines all the elements of a Hollywood classic from the Golden Age such as danger, drama, romance and desperation and yet without any aspect being a makeweight. Even more remarkable is the effortless ease with which the film places our deepest questions beside a gritty and genuinely exciting story. This film offers so much for Gable and Crawford fans but is definitely a must see for anyone!
In disagreement with other viewers I found nothing UNEASY about this picture. The film, a great one, deals with a "Strange" character (Cambreau)who by his mannerisms and wisdom hint at his being God incarnate. The question then arises as to why God would come among a group of sinners, convicts and scum. The script is well-written and stimulates a great deal of feeling. The writer certainly was able to bring biblical principals to pass on the screen with well- employed similes. If one knows the bible at all, then they would know that Jesus Christ did exactly that and when he asked why he answered that it was the sick who needed a physician... NOT the well. All of the roles are well-acted. This picture is certainly in my top 20.
I confess that I too do not entirely understand all of the message of Strange Cargo - and am not sure that whether or not that is an intentional device used to help each viewer decide meaning for himself/herself(OK, it's a stretch!). The story is simple: French prisoners in French Guyana are tired of the old prison life and routine and eventually make a break for the surrounding jungle amidst virtually no chances of success. We have a rather eclectic group: Clark Gable as arrogant as he comes as the head "Cheese" so to speak, Albert Dekker as Moll who is Gable's only real threat for supremacy, Paul Lukas as a spouse-killing German, Joan Crawford as a wise-cracking woman fallen on hard times(never quite sure whether or not it is established that she is/was a prostitute), and Ian Hunter in a strange role as some kind of super Christian and Samaritan. Aiding the cast is Peter Lorre as "Pig" who is after Crawford with a vengeful lust. The story is straightforward, but what is not is its intent. Each of these prisoners are troubled men with troubled consciences. Hunter's character is almost(or is indeed) a Christ-like figure out to ease each individual's pain and torment. Some men embrace his message prior to death, some live on with the promise of happiness, and one ignores it completely and resumes doing what he had that had gotten him into prison. I guess for me the thematically rich substrate is saying something about the importance of choice and the ease in which each of us can be forgiven if only we want to be forgiven. Director Frank Borzage does a decent job with this symbolic material. Some things might just be too ambiguous. But Borzage keeps the pacing going. Probably the most irritating thing for me was Gable's performance. His character is too pushy, too cocky, too crude to be charming, affable, or interesting at all. I didn't care what happened to him and routinely rooted against him. Joan Crawford fares much better giving a pretty nice performance with some dimension - though not much. Dekker and Lukas are very good; Lorre is good with a throwaway role. For me, Ian Hunetr gives the best, most interesting, and most likable performance as the mouthpiece of Heaven so to speak. His subtle acting really diminishes the possible heavy-handedness inherent in a role like this. Hunter plays his part in a first-rate fashion. Though certainly not one of the greatest films ever made, I found Strange Cargo a very interesting movie with a very interesting message.
In 1940,Frank Borzage gave two great movies in a row.In these trouble
,it was a true tour de force to achieve that."Strange cargo" and "mortal
storm" are admirable works,works of redemption,full of compassion for the
human race .Hats off to you,M.Borzage,you who are often ignored when they
list their favorite directors.
A user wrote that "strange cargo" was ahead of its time.It's so obvious that even now,it remains demanding ,deep,and absorbing.When you see where the adventures movie has gone,the likes of Indiana and co,you wonder that some works like that have been produced. "Strange cargo" anticipates the cinema future.In several respects it's John Huston before John Huston,but with more faith in the human nature. I would go as far as saying the first part is some kind of Bunuel's "la mort en ce jardin"(1956),but a Christian(!) Bunuel.The users who saw the Spanish director 's underrated film will be struck by the analogies between the two works .Gable's and Crawford' characters resemble George Marchal's and Simone Signoret's in "la mort en ce jardin".Or rather the other way about.
The main difference is the indomitable faith in God that Cambreau displays in the whole movie.His face radiates like a Christ,and Ian Hunter outshines the two stars Gable and Crawford.His performance ,subdued and sober,but always mesmerizing ,fascinates.There are unforgettable scenes:the beach ,where he opens the gates of eden for some kind of thief ;the cask of fresh water;his strange predictions;Clark Gable screaming "I'm God!" after throwing him into the water.The movie often verges on fantastic,but a spiritual and sustained fantastic,not drivel such as "IJ and the last crusade".
"Strange cargo" was followed by "mortal storm" ,which iseven more superior to it.Here ,Borzage anticipates on Minnelli "the four horsemen of the Apocalypse" 1961) and Visconti (la caditi degli dei 1969).His love for the human race is still beaming:in a world gone mad where nazi hate oozes everywhere,there will be several Cambreau to heal the wounds :Mr.and Mrs Roth,Martin,Freya and the old Mrs Breitner.
Do not miss his earlier works ,pacifist ones of course :"three comrades " and "no greater glory".Should they give a Nobel price of cinema,Frank Borzage would have been a strong contender in his lifetime.
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.
The Strange Cargo referred to in the title is in the person of Ian
Hunter who is a mysterious other world convict who comes upon a group
of them planning to escape from Devil's Island. It's a strange film,
Strange Cargo with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in the very last of
eight films they were paired in by MGM.
Crawford dusts off her Sadie Thompson role for her character here. Even with the Code firmly in place it's rather obvious that Crawford is a working girl. She's free, but stranded on that notorious convict island. Gable is essentially the same cynical tough guy he played in so many MGM features at that time.
Ian Hunter is the mysterious stranger among them. These aren't a group of choir boys he comes among. Yet one by one as they die he brings a peace that passeth all understanding as the Good Book says. The escapees all don't die, but all but one come under his influence.
I'm surprised that TCM did choose this one for its theme this June of gays in the cinema. Prison films even during the days of the Code were a bit more open in treatment of homosexuality. The relationship of Albert Dekker and young John Arledge is rather obvious. Dekker in fact chooses a gruesome suicide rather than live without Arledge after he dies.
In fact what's really startling to me was that the heavenly figure that Ian Hunter represents neither condemns suicide or homosexuality. I'm really wondering how the censors of the day let that one slip through.
Paul Lukas has a very interesting part. He's today what we would consider a serial killer, he's married and killed many women for their money. He's cool and cynical and rejects Hunter's entreaties. When Hunter says they will never meet again, the line is loaded with implications.
Strange Cargo is a strange film. It's not bad, but could have been a lot better without code restrictions.
When I first saw this movie, over 30 years ago, I was captivated by it and still am. Unfortunately they do not show it often enough. Gable, Crawford, Lorre, Lukas all great and surely missed. Truely one of the lost gems of the Golden Age. Have not seen in years and can not wait until it is shown again.
"Strange Cargo" is a 1940 film starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable
that leaves the usual story lines behind - romantic comedy, kept woman,
rags to riches - as it weaves an allegorical tale of escaping prisoners
and a Christ-like figure who accompanies them. Gable is Andre Verne, a
prisoner on Devil's Island who escapes with several other prisoners
(Paul Lukas, Albert Dekker, Eduardo Ciannelli, J. Edward Bromberg and
John Arledge). During the evening count, he's almost found missing but
another man, Cambreau (Ian Hunter) replaces him in line. He then boards
the boat to the mainland with them and Julie (Crawford), probably a
prostitute, who is escaping also from a lecherous bounty hunter (Peter
The prisoners fall on hard times as they escape through the woods and also while at sea when their water becomes tainted. Cambreau gives each prisoner comfort and helps them to confront the evil that brought them to Devil's Island, helping to bring them peace at last. This is not lost on Julie who sees a chance for redemption. Verne, however, isn't interested.
This is a very simple story beautifully directed by Borzage. The atmosphere of the film is dark and haunting. There is no preachiness. The sheer power of Cambreau and his sense of faith is what brings the prisoners solace. Hunter is majestic in the role. Gable is appropriately tough, and Crawford brings depth to Julie, who thought she knew what she wanted. The rest of the cast is top-notch.
"Strange Cargo" seems like a film that was made in the early '30s with its Christian parable. This was the last film that Crawford and Gable made together. Its powerful message makes this a fitting ending for a fine MGM team.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The aptly titled Strange Cargo is both strange and carries a mixed
cargo of entertainment nuggets for the casual viewer. It begins as a
prison yarn, skirts the boundaries of a religious epic, and ultimately
winds up a story of redemption for the hero, Andre Verne. As portrayed
by Clark Gable, Verne is tough and cynical; not to mention lecherous
and self-serving. His conversion is never convincing but how it comes
about is both unexpected and unusual for a studio picture from the era.
Verne is a tough con who is locked up on the infamous Devil's Island, territory that would be trod in further depth in Passage To Marseille with Humphrey Bogart and to a more realistic degree in 1973's Papillon starring Steve McQueen. He is constantly trying to escape; so often that he makes the penal colony look like a ramshackle hotel rather than a brutal work camp. During one of his escapes he is replaced in the prison lineup by a mysterious man who calls himself Cambreau and who seemingly materializes out of nowhere. Verne crosses paths with a dance-hall tart named Julie (Joan Crawford) who fires his interest and her scorn. She turns him in but is herself ordered off the island for having spoken to the convict in the first place; apparently this is a serious no-no. Ultimately Verne joins a prison break that includes Cambreau and he later enlists Julie into the group by some plot turns that will leave a viewer scratching his head. From this point the story switches gears and becomes a story of redemption as Cambreau helps the evil convicts discover the good in their souls before they die off one by one. Julie falls for Verne and he for her although Julie takes it one step further by renouncing the wickedness in her life while failing to persuade Verne to do likewise. After Julie goes off on her own so Verne can escape to America he has an epiphany and returns to prison to finish off his sentence before marrying her.
This is the final Crawford-Gable picture and while Crawford assumes top billing (as she always did) Gable is the real star of the film. Hot on the heels of his success in Gone With the Wind he was at the zenith of his popularity while Crawford was on a downward spiral. As Verne Gable is his typical self: cocky, tough, and faithless. While his character comes across as a smug bastard there is no denying the actor's virility and star power. When he is on screen he wipes nearly everyone else off in a fierce display of animal magnetism. Crawford matches him in wisecracks but her subtle underplaying makes her conversion to the righteous life more convincing than his. There is a sadness and weariness to her performance that suggests her character has lost her way in life and is looking for some method of finding herself again. This she does through the mechanizations of Cambreau and it is a tribute to her acting talents that she pulls it off.
The supporting cast is uniformly good; Peter Lorre is loathsome in a stereotypically slimy role as the prison stooge while Paul Lukas is chilling as the evil Hessler, a murderer of rich women. However, it is the performance of Ian Hunter as Cambreau that is the gem in this film. There has been debate about who Cambreau is and to be sure the movie doesn't come out an say it but to me it is obvious he is Jesus Christ. He has come to redeem Verne and along the way to provide a righteous path for the other characters in the picture. As played by Hunter the character is saintly without being sappy and inspirational without being corny. His interplay with Hessler on several occasions is extremely interesting and one wishes the film focused on this more. Hessler is referred to as the devil on more than one occasion and in the end he is the only one who does not succumb to Cambreau's powers of persuasion. In their last confrontation Hessler comments on how they may cross paths in the future; Cambreau replies in no uncertain terms that they will never meet again. Clearly Hessler is headed South for eternity.
Strange Cargo is an interesting movie from a studio system era that was reluctant to take chances with its stories. Here is a film that covers a lot of ideological territory and does so energetically while retaining the star-making essence of its two leads. On top of this you have a supporting actor stealing the film with a masterful portrayal of Jesus in a modern setting. Enjoy
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