Strange Cargo - 1940

Strange Cargo - Released March 1, 1940. Directed by Frank Borzage

This odd movie based on the metaphysical bestseller of 1936 Not Too Narrow... Not Too Deep*, is a prison escape film that's not really about getting out, but changing the reason why you're in prison in the first-place. Director Borzage has on his hands a tale of ten escaped convicts (many murderers) and a genial but mysterious 11th man named Jean Cambreau (he appears to be a convict, too. The impression doesn't last long.) Borzage turns it all into a crazy Hollywood love drama in which the self-centered and nihilistic Verne (Clark Gable), weary career floozy Julie (Joan Crawford) and the convicts have to face up to why they need each other on their water-and-jungle trek to freedom to escape a South American French penal colony.

In the case of Cambreau (played by Ian Hunter), who doesn't appear to need anyone, there is the exception of one brief instance when Clark has to provide a bit of rescue in a scene that predates a similar scene in Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. As the movie rolls along, the convicts learn that Cambreau always knows what's about to happen and knows why people are doing what they are doing better than they themselves know. This proves a relief for some of the convicts and quite vexing for the others, particularly the most religious member - Telez, played by Eduardo Ciannelli.

Peter Lorre isn't one of the convicts but plays an important role as M'sieu Pig, who everyone despises (with good reason) who proves useful when the chips are down unless he is trying to sell someone out to the authorities, which is his usual full-time occupation. Incidentally, Pig is always pining for Julie, and trying to manufacture some situation that will get her to sell-out to him. Eventually, he gets his chance.

It's hard-headed (and hearted) Verne that is the real challenge in the reformation sweepstakes, though the crew of ten escapee's presents plenty of additional difficulties, too. However, it appears to be nothing that Monsieur Cambreau can't handle, not even death proves too difficult for this clever stranger.

*Not Too Narrow... Not Too Deep by Richard Sale


Joan Crawford Films

Tramp Tramp Tramp - 1926

Sadie McKee - 1934

The Women - 1939

Strange Cargo - 1940

A Woman's Face - 1941

Flamingo Road - 1949

The Damned Don't Cry - 1950

Sudden Fear - 1952


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