Strange Cargo (1940 film)
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Frank Borzage|
|Produced by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
|Written by||Lawrence Hazard|
|Based on||Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep
by Richard Sale
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Edited by||Robert J. Kern|
Strange Cargo (1940) is a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature film starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable in a story about a group of fugitive prisoners from a French penal colony. The screenplay by Lawrence Hazard was based upon the 1936 novel, Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep, by Richard Sale. The film was directed by Frank Borzage and produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film is the eighth and last film pairing of Gable and Crawford.
Julie (Crawford), a cafe entertainer in a town near a French penal colony, meets Verne (Gable), a prisoner on wharf duty. Verne escapes and goes to Julie's room but is apprehended after Mi'sieu Pig (Peter Lorre) reports him, and is returned to prison. Julie is fired for consorting with a prisoner. At the prison, Moll (Albert Dekker) has masterminded a jailbreak and takes Cambreau (Ian Hunter), Telez (Eduardo Ciannelli), Hessler (Paul Lukas), Flaubert (J. Edward Bromberg), Dufond (John Arledge) with him.
Verne joins the escapees, taking Julie with him. The gentle Cambreau (a Christ figure) exerts a spiritual influence over the others, often reading from and quoting the Bible. As they trek through the jungle, most die with only Verne, Julie, Hessler, and Cambreau surviving the ordeal (Hessler--a Judas figure--disdains Cambreau's salvation and is last seen slinking off into the night, knowing as a gale arises that there is no turning back.) Verne initially scoffs at Cambreau's spirituality, but saves him from drowning (as Cambreau clings to driftwood---again, as a Christ figure on Calvary's cross) and penitently decides to return to the prison to finish his sentence. Julie has grown to love Verne and promises to wait for him.
Though both the original novel and the film's screenplay are allegorical with many Christian elements, they present an ultimately humanist philosophy (rather than evangelical Christian theology) as the story's central message.
Film Daily noted, "Here is a good, raw, stark melodrama which holds suspense from the start. Frank Borzage has given it expert directorial attention...Clark Gable fits his role admirably...The acting is high-grade with Joan Crawford giving her best performance to date."
Variety commented, "Although the picture has its many deficiencies, the Crawford characterization will give studio execs idea of proper casting of her talents for the future. Direction by Frank Borzage fails to hit the dramatic punches...He has not clearly defined the spiritual redemption angle, which also adds to the audience confusion. The screenplay does not help Borzage out of his predicament."
According to MGM records the film earned $1,311,000 in the US and Canada and $603,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $21,000.
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Quirk, Lawrence J.. The Films of Joan Crawford. The Citadel Press, 1968.