Strange Cargo (1929)

  |  Mystery



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17 March 2013 | AlsExGal
| I've never seen anything quite like it....
... and when you couple that with the fact that this is an early talkie, this is quite an interesting little mystery film. The setting is the yacht of Sir Richard Barclay who has a large party on board. He is recently divorced and is making unwanted advances towards Diana. Richard is quite the "Snidely Whiplash" archetypal villain here, and when the bland Bruce comes to her aid as Richard gets too up close and personal for Diana, Richard shows no shame. Also, Richard keeps asking the ship doctor if he's ever heard of a doctor wanted for a criminal charge in England. The doctor keeps answering no, but it's clear the question is making him uncomfortable. There's also a mysterious stowaway on board being helped by a member of the crew. Did I mention that Richard beat it out of India with a bunch of purloined sacred Hindu artifacts which he proudly displays on his yacht?

In the midst of all of this intrigue are strange electrical occurrences that some are attributing to psychic phenomenon. The lights flicker, then go out, a woman screams, and when the lights come back on Richard is gone, with a dagger in the carpet where he was standing.

The captain proceeds to investigate formally by interviewing each passenger one by one while young passenger Hungerford rummages around the ship looking for Richard - or his body - reasoning that there was not time for him to be thrown overboard, and no exit from the room in which he could not be noticed in case he was planning his disappearing act and simply left.

Meanwhile one of the most humorous scenes is guest Mrs. Townsend taking the yacht's first mate (Ned Sparks) up to the crow's nest for a séance. This is one of Ned's first talking picture appearances and one of the few films you'll see him where he is not dishing out wise cracks left and right. Instead he is quite timid throughout the film, thoroughly afraid of ghosts, and very much afraid in this particular scene.

I'd never heard of this film until I recently saw a pretty good copy of it, and if you can forgive the common problems with early talkies - not much motion and some over-emoting, this one is quite good. The mystery is engaging, there are no static overly talkative scenes as was common with the films of 1929, and if this had been made by MGM and not Pathe I'm sure it would show up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies and be better known. One thing that has not helped keep it alive in film history is its near anonymous cast. Outside of Ned Sparks and Lee Patrick as Diana, who is almost physically unrecognizable as the scrappy blonde girl Friday to Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon some twelve years later, I had never heard of any of the members of the cast before.

I'd recommend this one to anybody who likes a good and unusual mystery and can look past some of the common technical problems of early sound films.

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Release Date:

31 March 1929



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