Year: 1940

Director: Frank Borzage

Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Ian Hunter, Peter Lorre, Albert Dekker

In a prisoner colony in French Guiana, several prisoners plan an escape: the brutish Andre Verne (Gable), mysterious Cambreau (Hunter), amoral Hessler (Lukas), and fellow criminals Moll (Dekkar), Dufond (Arledge), Flaubert (Bromberg), and Telez (Ciannelli). During their journey through the jungle, they come across Julie (Crawford), a showgirl, and saver her from her abusive lover. The group undergoes transformations, both spiritual and romantic, on their way to the shore and to salvation.

As as ensemble piece, Strange Cargo is able to focus both on Borzage’s religious fixation and his romantic one. While Lazybones uses the most literal biblical imagery, Strange Cargo is his most blatantly religious film with Cambreau as an obvious God image and Hessler as an obvious devil. While the physical leadership of the group shifts among the other men, Cambreau remains the spiritual center, the anchor, the guide. Hessler’s attempts to sway the group toward ‘evil’ aren’t quite as dramatic as Cambreau’s attempts at good. He spends most of his time debating with Cambreau, and the others, about good and evil and human nature. It’s clear that Cambreau’s influence is the dominant one, leading the group to their spiritual salvation while Andre leads them to their physical one.

Julie and Andre fulfill Borzage’s need for spiritual romance. They become the focus of the story, and because their souls are so obviously entwined, their journey is meant to be longer than the others’. Early in the film their attraction to each other is completely sexual, but as the film progesses they transcend mere physical attachment to the point where they can begin their spiritual journey together. They must realize that they are bound before they can truly embark on finding their salvation.

The religious and romantic storylines arive when the group emerges from the jungle. The group is now just Cambreau, Hessler, Julie, and Andre, evoking an image of Eden. Julie and Andre as Adam and Eve and Cambreau and Hessler as God and Satan. Hessler solidifies his image when he turns his back on the group and on their salvation and leaves them. Julie and Andre are able to find their salvation once they learn how to sacrifice for each other. Cambreau, who doesn’t need salvation, disappears to, as he told Andre earlier in the film, help others who need him.

By: Katie Richardson

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