STRANGE CARGO (director: Frank Borzage; screenwriters: Lawrence Hazard/based on the novel Not Too Narrow … Not Too Deep by Richard Sale; cinematographer: Robert Planck; editor: Robert J. Kern; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Clark Gable (Verne), Joan Crawford (Julie), Ian Hunter (Cambreau), Peter Lorre (M’sieu Pig), Albert Dekker (Moll), Paul Lukas (Hessler), J. Edward Bromberg (Flaubert), Eduardo Cianelli (Telez), John Arledge (Duford), Frederic Warlock (Grideau), Bernard Nedell (Marfeau); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Frank Borzage/Joseph L. Mankiewicz; MGM; 1940)
“Embarrassingly flavorful as a Hollywood religious delicacy.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Frank Borzage’s (“A Farewell to Arms”/”The Mortal Storm”) allegorical feel-good ode to love and redemption is a strange adventure/religious drama that has eight prisoners escape from New Guinea’s steamy Devil Island penal colony; they are picked up by a boat commandeered by another escapee, Verne (Clark Gable) and his trollop dancehall townie girlfriend Julie (Joan Crawford). The escapees trek through the jungle as their arrogant leader, the Gable character escaping from a life sentence, moves from finding physical liberation and being strongly attracted to the Crawford character to a deeper spiritual feeling. The mysterious character played by Ian Hunter, Cambreau, is a Christ-figure who is tuned into the nature of things and is able to guide them to salvation. The only knock taken against the religious figure comes when the unrepentant escapee Paul Lukas character taunts Cambreau during the third act by saying “Without an occasional defeat, your victories would be empty things.”
Things got heavy with all the preaching, Gable reading love poetry from the Bible to Crawford and the contrived obligatory romance. It was written in a too cutesy style and with too many biblical references by Lawrence Hazard; it’s based on the novel “Not Too Narrow … Not Too Deep” by Richard Sale. Other than being well crafted, it was embarrassingly flavorful as a Hollywood religious delicacy. If it weren’t for Peter Lorre’s usually good slimy performance, then I think I would have checked out of this flick (forgoing even possible salvation) rather than tag along with such poor jungle company.
REVIEWED ON 11/10/2006 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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