27 February 2005 | BaronBl00d
Religious Allegory Perhaps?
I confess that I too do not entirely understand all of the message of Strange Cargo - and am not sure that whether or not that is an intentional device used to help each viewer decide meaning for himself/herself(OK, it's a stretch!). The story is simple: French prisoners in French Guyana are tired of the old prison life and routine and eventually make a break for the surrounding jungle amidst virtually no chances of success. We have a rather eclectic group: Clark Gable as arrogant as he comes as the head "Cheese" so to speak, Albert Dekker as Moll who is Gable's only real threat for supremacy, Paul Lukas as a spouse-killing German, Joan Crawford as a wise-cracking woman fallen on hard times(never quite sure whether or not it is established that she is/was a prostitute), and Ian Hunter in a strange role as some kind of super Christian and Samaritan. Aiding the cast is Peter Lorre as "Pig" who is after Crawford with a vengeful lust. The story is straightforward, but what is not is its intent. Each of these prisoners are troubled men with troubled consciences. Hunter's character is almost(or is indeed) a Christ-like figure out to ease each individual's pain and torment. Some men embrace his message prior to death, some live on with the promise of happiness, and one ignores it completely and resumes doing what he had that had gotten him into prison. I guess for me the thematically rich substrate is saying something about the importance of choice and the ease in which each of us can be forgiven if only we want to be forgiven. Director Frank Borzage does a decent job with this symbolic material. Some things might just be too ambiguous. But Borzage keeps the pacing going. Probably the most irritating thing for me was Gable's performance. His character is too pushy, too cocky, too crude to be charming, affable, or interesting at all. I didn't care what happened to him and routinely rooted against him. Joan Crawford fares much better giving a pretty nice performance with some dimension - though not much. Dekker and Lukas are very good; Lorre is good with a throwaway role. For me, Ian Hunetr gives the best, most interesting, and most likable performance as the mouthpiece of Heaven so to speak. His subtle acting really diminishes the possible heavy-handedness inherent in a role like this. Hunter plays his part in a first-rate fashion. Though certainly not one of the greatest films ever made, I found Strange Cargo a very interesting movie with a very interesting message.