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In Africa early in World War II, a British rubber plantation executive reminisces about his arrival in the Congo in 1910. He tells the story of a love-hate triangle involving Harry Witzel, an in-country station superintendent who'd seen it all, Langford, a new manager sent from England for a four-year stint, and Tondelayo, a siren of great beauty who desires silk and baubles. Witzel is gruff and seasoned, certain that Langford won't be able to cut it. Langford responds with determination and anger, attracted to Tondelayo because of her beauty, her wiles, and to get at Witzel. Manipulation, jealousy, revenge, and responsibility play out as alliances within the triangle shift. Written by
Because of the miscegenation aspects of the play (Tondelayo was a black woman), it was on the Production Code Administraiton's "condemned" list of sources not to be considered. A big outcry was heard when the British film, based on the same sources, was released in New York in March, 1930, because it was deemed to violate the spirit of the Hays decree. MGM hired playwright Leon Gordon to adapt his play for the screen; he changed Tondelayo's parentage to half Egyptian and half Arab, and it was eventually given an approved certificate. Still, the movie was placed on the Legion of Decency's condemned list, and the film was banned in Singapore and Trinidad because of its racial implications. See more »
The doctor hands a small bottle to Tondelayo and describes it only as "new medicine." However, when giving a dose to her husband she calls it "quinine" - a medical term she would unlikely know with her limited command of English. See more »
Give Tondelayo silk and bangles or Tondelayo send you hell in handbasket
"I am Tondelayo" at one time was a phrase bandied about, though you don't hear it much, if ever, anymore. "White Cargo" is a 1942 film starring Hedy Lamarr, Walter Pidgeon, Richard Carlson, Frank Morgan, and Henry O'Neill.
The story concerns men on a rubber plantation, bored, hot, and hating it. When Mr. Langford (Richard Carlson) joins them, he's fresh and rarin' to go. As the others predict, his optimism doesn't last long.
Then along comes the scourge of the jungle, Tondelayo (Lamarr). She's Egyptian and Arab so she could pass the Hays office, which said whites and blacks couldn't cavort. Apparently Tonde has given quite a few white jungle dwellers, including the Pidgeon carrier, quite a ride. He detests her, and warns Carlson to stay away from her. But he can't. Soon she works her magic on him and his destruction begins.
Among Holllywood's spectacular beauties, Hedy Lamarr was in the top 5. She had something besides beauty (intelligence, but that doesn't come into play here) -- sex appeal. You certainly didn't have to be womanless in the jungle to find her gorgeous, especially half-dressed. Sporting dark makeup, a bad accent and bad accent, Tondelayo proves to be problematic.
I think this was intended as a serious film, and it's very well made, not like some campy movie. True, Lamarr's role is campy, and it would have been no matter who had acted in it.
You can mark this down as an entertaining film about the tropics, a favorite topic over at MGM. And maybe on Jeopardy Alec Trebek had to run through the "Hedy Lamarr" topic all by himself while the clueless contestants just stood there, but there was a time when everybody had heard of her -- and Tondelayo.
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