Strange Cargo (1940)
Release Date: March 1,1940
Directed by: Frank Bozarge
Available on DVD in The Joan Crawford Collection Vol. 2
Gable is Verne, a thief who has been imprisoned for years in a dirty jail on an island in New Guinea. Out on work duty one day, he comes across Julie (Crawford), a cafe singer. She turns him in when he breaks out to try and be with her. She is then banished from the island for harboring a criminal. When Verne manages to escape again along with fellow inmates, Julie joins them on their voyage to the mainland. Both are uneasy by the presence of Cambreau (Hunter), a mysterious Christ-like figure who recites scriptures and begs them to repent their ways. Julie struggles with her love for Verne and whether or not to continue on with him in a life of crime or to come clean. Lorre appears as the devious Monsieur Pig, who wants Julie all to himself.
Watch the trailer:
Photoplay magazine, May 1940:
The original name of this was “Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep” and it referred to the graves people dig themselves. There is much of death about the film. It is a weird, allegorical preachment having to do with escaping convicts in the jungles surrounding a tropical prison camp. Clark Gable plays the toughest of the convicts, Joan Crawford a brothel gal. She is kicked off the island, has no money for steamer fare and joins the band. Through all the tribulations of these miserable people strides a Christlike figure in the person of Ian Hunter, who struggles to bring about their regeneration. Miss Crawford gives a suburb dramatic portrayal and goes off the glamour standard for the first time. Hunter looks benevolent and Gable seems a little embarrassed with a role that would embarrass practically anybody. Peter Lorre is M. Pig and most expressive about it.
Hollywood magazine, June 1940:
Tough was the prisoner Verne (Clark Gable), mean and resentful and determined to make his escape from Devil’s Island. Punishment did not change his mind. Neither did solitary confinement. Neither did reports of the dangers of the swamp, the promises of capture or of death within a few miles of the prison walls.
The same idea of escape haunted an unsavory set of his fellow prisoners. They were vicious men, all. Brutal crimes had taken them to Devil’s Island. They were prepared to repeat them to get away. That is why no one asked too many questions when a new man, Cambreau (Ian Hunter), bribed his way into their company. He had plenty of money, and it would be useful, especially if Cambreau happened to be killed on the way through the jungle.
The whole film is devoted in greater part through two long struggles against shocking hardships. The first is the fight of the men against the poisons and the fevers and the quicksands of the swamps. It is a much smaller group that finally wins through to the seacoast and the waiting boat. The second part is the long sail without water or food under the blistering tropic sun.
Joan Crawford sacrifices make-up through most of the film to play the part of Julie, outcast dance-hall girl who tolerates Verne only because he can help her to get away, and then falls in love with him. The most striking thing about the story is the change that overtakes all of the characters under the quiet influence of Cambreau, but it would not be fair to reveal in advance the secret of his presence.
This film was banned in Detroit by local censors because of the unsavory characters with which it deals. So don’t take the little ones.
Motion Picture magazine, June 1940:
We feel we’ve been taken advantage of for after reading the ads and looking at tons of art the last thing in the world we expected to find at the preview of “Strange Cargo” was God. So were telling you to be prepared to meet Him00or your conscience (God is the goodness in us)–when you see this dramatic epic of the tropics (quoting Metr’s ads) based on the book “Not Too Narrow…Not Too Deep” by Richard Sale. Joan Crawford and Clark Gable co-star in this emotional drama and the supporting cast includes Ian Hunter, Peter Loree, Paul Lukas, Albert Dekker, J. Edward Bromberg, Eduardo Ciannelli, John Arledge, Frederic Worlock, Bernard Nedell and Victor Varconi. They’re all splendid, too. The story takes place in a penal colony in French Guinea from which five hardened criminals, a lady of easy virtue and a mysterious stranger make an escape through the jungle. The stranger of course is Him and through the terror and tortures experienced in their trek through the wilds He helps them to find salvation. The moral of the story is there’s a little but of good in each of us.
“Yeah, maybe one of them rats in there slipped me one. I’ve got a couple of hidden
weapons at that–here and here. Nobody can take them away from me.” first line
“Yeah, it’s tough. You’ve plugged up every hole I’ve ever made but you know I’m gonna make
“I’m a thief by profession, not a convict. There’s nothing worth stealing around here
except freedom. and I’m after some of that.”
“You’ve got class, kid. Or is it because I haven’t seen any women lately?”
“Don’t try that again. ‘Cause if you do I’ll break a couple of your bones. If you’ve got
“I don’t know what you’ll look like tomorrow but right now, baby, you’re the most
beautiful dame in the world. Does that mean anything to you?”
“Yes my dear brethren, the day of salvation is at hand.”
“Garbage, but good enough for a man when he’s starving. So you’ll do too, baby.”
“Oh, so I’m a swine for robbing the dead!”
“A woman would be a chump to fall for a guy like me, wouldn’t she? What could she win?”
“It’s a great spot for a dame. Bring a guy up to a point where he can’t see anything else in the world except her. You had me where there’s nothing I wouldn’t have done for you. I’d have gone on being a thief or I’d have tried it the other way if that is what you wanted. How does that sound?”
“All of a sudden things look different, don’t they baby?”
“Did you hear that? Did you hear what he said, Cambreau? In heaven and on earth, in all the
world, there’s nobody that can save you but me! So when you say your prayers, say them to me, Cambreau! I’m the only God you can call on now! I’m the old temple, remember? you were right when you said God was in me, God’s in everybody! Gippy’s God, I’m God, you’re—”
“What do you think?” last line
Behind the Scenes
Gable’s role had first been offered to Spencer Tracy, who turned it down. Crawford suggested Gable for the role.
Filming began in mid-September 1939. While Gable worked on this film, wife Lombard was working on the nursing drama Vigil in the Night.
It had been a few years since Gable and Crawford had starred together and their relationship had grown strained. Many say this was because Crawford was jealous of Gable’s recent marriage to Carole Lombard. Crawford would whisper things to Gable during scenes and he would stomp off, looking irritated. Her longtime hairdresser quit the film because he couldn’t stand the tension and the cruel way they treated each other.
Crawford’s wardrobe consisted of three ready-to-wear dresses which cost under $40 and for most of the film she wore no makeup.
While shooting a scene where Gable and Crawford are running through the jungle, they pass a snake hanging in a tree. After they shot the scene once, Crawford suddenly realized that the snake was real. “That son of a bitch is alive!”When informed that the snake’s mouth had been tied shut with a rubber band, she said “And what happens if the rubber band snaps!” and refused to shoot the scene again.