Monday, December 6, 2010

Joan Takes a Strange Trip

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford ended their on-screen partnership with the 1940 film Strange Cargo.  And a very strange movie it is. Gable plays a convict in penal colony in French Guiana.  Though he only has a few years left on his long sentence, Verne spends his days finding ways to escape.  Verne meets Julie (Crawford), a young woman working at a local dive; however his advances only success in getting her ejected from the colony.  Verne becomes immeshed in a plot to escape; however he is beaten by Moll (Albert Dekker).  However, Verne is able to follow, thanks to instructions left by Cambreau (Ian Hunter); he meets up with his fellow prisoners - Julie in tow (having rescued her from a local nasty, Marfeu, enroute).  As the journey continues, and the prisoners begin to die, each finds himself seeking comfort from the mysterious Chambreau. 

The Christian motifs are laid on with a trowel in this movie. Witness, especially, the near drowing of Chambreau towards the end of the picture!  That being said, Ian Hunter plays the part with remarkable restraint.  We all felt that, with a less subtle performance and direction (by Frank Borzage), this movie would have been impossible to watch. Hunter takes a part that is rife for caricature and makes a breathing human being out of it.
It's worth noting that Crawford spends most of the movie without any makeup, and dressed in rags, yet her beauty is still palpable.  One wishes she had more opportunities to play this kind of bare, unglamorous role.  Gable is rough and tough, of course, but he too gets some good moments, especially towards the end.  Having just release Gone with the Wind the previous year, he was certainly at the top of his game.  For Crawford, who had already been labeled "box-office poison", her years at MGM were numbered. However, her greatest movie role was still to come.  Regardless of their status in Hollywood, the chemistry between Crawford and Gable is still quite evident. 

Here's a scene from the movie featuring the two of them:

Next time, join us for another Crawford film from the early 1940s.

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