For Reel

Strange Cargo (1940)
August 11, 2015, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Borzage
4 Stars
Strange CargoIn the climactic sequence of Strange Cargo, a hardened criminal (Clark Gable) is about to let a man die (Ian Hunter) in order to ensure his freedom. At the last possible moment, he discovers that the man he is sacrificing is God, and that only through his repentance can he ultimately find the peace that he’s looking for. Hunter’s positioning on a floating piece of debris as if he were on the crucifix is as obtuse an image as any in director Frank Borzage’s filmography, but Strange Cargo nonetheless does show a tremendous evolution in his themes from his earlier pictures. Whereas he dealt with a number of suffering romantics who finally accepted that a true, pure love denotes sacrifice and takes precedence over all other material matters in his 30s films, Strange Cargo suggests a more complete personal reformation. That is, Gable can’t be saved purely through his relationship with Joan Crawford–in fact, in the final moments, he’s stripped of her. Instead, Hunter’s Christ figure is the catalyst for his own sense of personal redemption, his acceptance of his place in the world and a greater understanding of how he fits into it. As is typical of Borzage, the major characters in Strange Cargo are driven nearly to death before their repentance is complete, echoing Borzage’s running theme that such personal harmonies (whether those be romantic or those involving one’s relationship to the world) can bring one to a state of transcendence.

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