East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Joan Crawford Blogathon: Strange Cargo (1940)


It’s the Joan Crawford blogathon – and we are terribly late!
But here we are.
Set up by the In the Good Old Days of Hollywood blog, this online marathon celebrates one of the most iconic actresses of Classic Hollywood.
Strikingly beautiful, extraordinarily talented and extremely versatile, Crawford later became the subject of interests unrelated to her acting career… but we are trying to stick to her performances. This is not a gossip column.
So, please check out the link above for a full list of the participating blogs and a lot of excellent posts on some great movies.


And once you’re done, follow us in the jungle as we set our sights on Strange Cargo.

Strange_Cargo_(1940_film)Strange Cargo is a melodramatic adventure yarn, directed in 1940 by Franke Borzage, a director that had made the transition from the silent era to the talkies with relative ease.
The movie is called L’Isola del Diavolo (The Devil’s Island) in Italian – and that’s a suiting title as we are about to meet a band of fugitives from a French penal colony in the Tropics. While the name of the place is never revealed, it is pretty obvious we are in the environs of Cayenne, the Devil’s Island – the same featured in We Are Not Angels (Bogart, Lorre, Ray… what a movie!) and of course Papillon.
To make a runner from the clutches of the French penitentiary system this time is Clark Gable – in 1940 at the top of his star form – together with a band of cutthroats.

In her eight (and final) film as Gable’s leading lady, Crawford plays the role of Julie, a working girl in the local café.
When Verne (Gable) takes to the jungle with the other fugitives, he takes her with him.
The fugitives are lost in the thick of the jungle and a drama of loyalties and betrayal plays out until the final resolution…

And this being a 1940 movie in which evil cannot triumph, Gable in the end decides to give himself up and finish his sentence, sure that Crawford will wait for him (and no, I’m not spoiling anything, ladies and gentlemen – this is a movie you don’t watch for the plot, but for the sheer beauty of it all).


The movie is a solid pulp yarn, and yet it is also filled with religious elements and Christian metaphors, that Borzage – whose work often showed the influence of directors like Murnau – plays for maximum effect, coupling the screenplay with a beautiful black and white photography. The Legion of Decency did not appreciate (they also had problems with the “lustful complications” in the story – and admittedly, as you can see from the trailer above, the production pulled no punches in that sense).
The odyssey through the jungle includes all the classic complications of movie jungle adventure, including venomous snakes and a python that according to the legend scared Crawford despite having its mouth tied close with a rubber band.


And talking of snakes, the slithery Peter Lorre, in the role of M’sieu Pig, steals the show, but the whole cast is absolutely perfect.

The film provides Crawford with a distinctively raw character – she was supposed to act without any makeup, and with a wardrobe of three off-the-rack dresses, one of which the actress wore throughout the filming.


Even without makeup, Joan impresses Clark

Today the movie still packs a certain punch, despite its dated set-up and it exceeding sentimentality.
The leads are fabulous, and the film simply does look gorgeous, so that lot of the shots are poster material.
By straddling the line between adventure thriller (men on the run!) and romantic drama (doomed lovers!) the film manages to keep the audience interested in both, which is no little feat.
Worth a look, on a long, hot summer night.
And the chemistry between the leads is absolutely wonderful…

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “The Joan Crawford Blogathon: Strange Cargo (1940)

  1. Pingback: THE JOAN CRAWFORD BLOGATHON HAS NOW ARRIVED – In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood.

  2. Great post on a great film. Many thanks for joining in on the blogathon.

    Also, don’t forget that today is the last day of the Second Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon. I have you on the roster for Twentieth Century.


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