Frank Borzage directed this MGM controversial Joan Crawford final pairing with Clark Gable in 1940.
STRANGE CARGO is the story of Julia, cafe entertainer played by Crawford who is fired for consorting with prisoner Verne who is played by Gable who breaks into her rooms during an escape attempt. Later along with a group of fellow convicts other prisoners including one who claims to a “Christ” figure (Ian Hunter) is called a gentle Cambreau who has influence on the others. He reads Bible passage to the people as they make their escape along a treacherous jungle trek and a open sea journey.
Verne scoffs at the spirituality of it all at first even saves him from drowning in gale. in a rather uncharacteristically non happy Hollywood ending but still the one dictated by the morals code the prisoners do not make good their escape. In fact they all return to finish there sentences even Crawford’s character who has grown to love Verne and will wait for him
Why the controversy in the picture? Well the subject matter of a “Christ” like figure for one thing that was not all powerful. The moments when Clark Gable character has a real “acting chops” moment as he rages about on deck during storm.
Some have said that Joan Crawford’s character of Julie was just a redo Sadie Thompson from RAIN that she did in 1932 which set in motion the other roles such as Sadie McKee in the the film of the same name in 1934 even roles in FLAMINGO ROAD (1949).
Gable got to do something with some substance after GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) even if the role is similar to RED DUST (1932).
STRANGE CARGO (1940) features a strong cast of supporting players such as Peter Lorrie, Albert Dekker and Paul Lukas in a slightly off beat yet satisfying story. You get to see the characters have a type of redemption as the survivors return to finish their sentences or find love. One wonders how this got through at MGM which also produced the wholesome ANDY HARDY series of pictures with Louis B. Mayer still the head of the studio.