Strange Cargo (1940)

FRANK BORZAGE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA, 1940. . Screenplay by , based on the book Not Too Narrow…Not Too Deep by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Clark Gable is a prisoner on the penal colony of Guyana whose sentence is not being shortened by his constant escape attempts.  Joan Crawford plays a tough-talking dame who hangs around the pier smoking and waiting (and we all know what that means), and after she catches his eye, Gable is inspired to take another stab at breaking out.  He does so successfully, but after he is caught in her quarters they are both punished by the law, he to return to custody and she expelled from the colony for having fraternized with a prisoner.  Told she must pay her own way out, Crawford is stuck having to accept the company of a scoundrel who traps her in his shack.  Thankfully, Gable stops there on his next escape attempt, taking her along with himself and the group of men who are making their way through to the jungle to a rendezvous with a ship that will take them away from this place.  In their company is a strangely calm and wise character () who seems to be able to predict the weather and see inside men’s hearts, and as their journey progresses, the stakes rise and loyalties shift, he always seems to be there to help characters put things in perspective.  What at first began as a jungle adventure eventually appears to be something intent on quieting the fury of Gable’s soul, an odd combination of escapist exploitation and moral lecturing that never quite finds its landing ground anywhere: there is little satisfaction in either the turns of the plot, the relationships between the characters or the film’s idea of fate and justice.  Gable delivers mouthfuls of dialogue that he never seems to have actually read before memorizing, his realizations towards the end are hollow and wearisome, and Crawford’s attempt at a Barbara Stanwyck-like wiseacre speaking voice is never convincing, at this point she had worked so hard to smooth herself into such an elegant and refined icon on screen that trying to invoke low origins come across as disingenuous.  The images are beautiful, but you’re better off going to John Ford’s tropical island in The Hurricane than this weighty and unrewarding adventure.

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