Strange Cargo Reviews
Vern is a convict in South America. He tries to escape only to run into an American girl named Julie that turns him in. He falls for her and tries to escape again. His second escape attempt finds her as well, so she decides to join him in his quest to return to America. Julie has a hidden motive for joining Vern but what could it be? Will Vern make it back to America or will Julie's selfish plan thwart his attempt to regain freedom?
"We must talk again, messier. You have a brain. That makes two of us."
Frank Borzage, director of 7th Heaven, A Farewell to Arms, Stage Door Canteen, The Mortal Storm, China Doll, Bad Girl, Man's Castle, and Stranded, delivers Strange Cargo. The storyline for this picture has excellent characters but is a bit boring at times. This is a definite huge step down from movies like Life Boat and Life of Pie with similar plots. The acting is amazing and the cast includes Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ian Hunter, and Peter Lorre.
"All I want is to get out of here and you happen to be going my way."
I DVR'd this picture off Turner Classic Movies (TCM) because it starred the talented Joan Crawford. I will say this movie had great characters and a well written script; however, the movie definitely felt dry at times and fairly boring in spots. Overall, this is an above average movie that is just okay.
"There's nothing worth stealing around here but freedom."
This time around, Gable plays André Verne, a prisoner that is completely desperate to get out of his water-locked jail. So when one of his fellow prisoners (Albert Dekker) devises a sure-to-be-flawless scheme to break out, Verne takes the risk, along with seven other jailbirds. They plan to take a sailboat as soon as they get to shore, and ride into the mainland.
Verne brings along his new girlfriend Julie (Crawford), a woman who arrived on the island as a lounge singer but quickly was fired after her relationship with him was discovered. As the plan is put into action, the prisoners end up having a hard time, as the trip begins with a long journey through the jungle, with little food and water.
When they actually to get to their boat, things begin messily, and completely cynically. But everything begins to change when one of the fellow passengers begins to resemble a saint-like figure.
The film's biggest problem is with its fascination with religion, and while moments certainly cram it down our throats, most of the time it leaves us more confused than anything. "Strange Cargo" tries to convince us that the wise Cambreau (Ian Hunter) is God or at least God-like, and that the characters find redemption through him. But as a supposed adventure film, this side-plot basically ruins everything. As dramatic as it sounds, it's not an exaggeration.
Everything starts out excellently: Crawford and Gable automatically sizzle the film with their slick chemistry, the dialogue is quick-witted, and the steamy setting is enticing. But once the main set of characters land on the boat to escape, everything goes downhill. The plot almost ceases to move -- most films in the similar category would at least have the police hot on their tale or even a hurricane -- but "Strange Cargo" instead focuses on its characters, all of whom are too unlikable (except for Crawford and Gable, although Gable pushes it) to truly create interest. Once the religious angle is introduced, the eye-rolls begin. It's surprising how fast something can go completely wrong.
And it's sad. Crawford and Gable are fantastic together on screen. She, so glamorous and refined, is easily sexy, while he is grizzled, smart-alecky, and tough as nails. They make for a great contrast, and it's not hard to imagine them as a romantic couple. While there are moments in "Strange Cargo" where this quality is shown off, there isn't nearly enough.
It's a shame that Crawford and Gable had to go out like this, because they've done so much better. Had it looked anything like 1935's "China Seas," which saw Jean Harlow as the female lead, it would have been a rollicking adventure, and a complete grand finale. Too bad it didn't turn out that way.
It has its flaws, but "Strange Cargo" is an interesting and enriching work of art with an unusual spiritual undercurrent. Set in the South American jungle, it tells the story of an inmate in a remote penal colony (Gable) and a tough broad from the gutter with no family (Crawford) struggling to get by working in cheap nightclubs (probably including prostitution).
Gable and several other inmates break out of the prison, and we follow them on their grueling trek. For reasons I won't explain, Crawford's character ends up going with them. Along the way, they all learn a lot about each other and the demons they're fighting.
There are so many characters that it gets a bit dizzying, and the script sometimes is a bit overly brainy. But there's a lot here to appreciate, and I'm saddened that "Strange Cargo" has been so completely forgotten.
In my continued exploration of the films of Joan Crawford, I'm realizing something more deeply than ever. The vast majority of good films have been forgotten. American culture has a bizarre tendency to forget about its movies. You'd think that good films would leave more of a trace in the culture. So much good work that no one knows about.
One tidbit: the director of "Strange Cargo," Frank Borzage (a man I've never heard of before this), won a Best Director award at the very first Oscar ceremony in 1929. The film was called "Seventh Heaven," starring Janet Gaynor. She also won an Oscar that night. Another forgotten movie from a forgotten director, starring a forgotten actress.
All in all, an interesting film, certainly considering how it broke out of the 1940's mold and anticipated the darker, grittier style of films that would once again rule in years to come, but nowhere near a masterwork.
This is the quintessential Clark Gable movie. He plays André Verne, a rough and tough Devil's Island inmate. He sees saloon girl, Julie (Joan Crawford) while working on the docks and the sparks fly. He has to have her, even grabbing her well-exposed leg. André escapes to her room just to be with her. But, Julie has no choice, and must turn him in.
This is the quintessential Joan Crawford movie too, with her typical tough-talking, Sadie Thompson character. I know that she's supposed to be without make-up, but she still comes off pretty glamorous despite roughing it in the jungle swamps and lost at sea.
Both people are lost souls who are trying to escape their lot in life, but are not given too many alternative chances, or choices in life. Julie is fleeing the amorous advances of M'sieu Pig (Peter Lorre) by moving in with a miner in the jungle, and André is escaping with some other hardened convicts led by the most dangerous Moll (Albert Dekker) who would stab you in the back as help you (even though he has a soft spot for Dufond (John Arledge). There's also Hessler (Paul Lukas) who marries and murders rich women.
A stranger walks into the prison, Chambreau (Ian Hunter) and tags along with the convicts. He's somehow let into the escape and has a weird effect on many of the men, including André.
Naturally, as in most Clark Gable movies, the love of a good woman was what turned him around. But, in this particular case, there's the mysterious Chambreau who has challenged André's conscience to redeem himself and do the right thing.