White Cargo (1942)

White Cargo (1942)

“She knows how to purr her way into your mind and scratch her way out, always taking and never giving.”

A rubber plantation overseer (Walter Pidgeon) in a humid African village — just one among a handful of white men, including an alcoholic doctor (Frank Morgan) and a kind missionary (Henry O’Neill) — laments the arrival of an idealistic new co-worker (Richard Carlson) who quickly falls in love with a local “half-breed” seductress named Tondelayo (Hedy Lamarr).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Flashback Films
  • Frank Morgan Films
  • Hedy Lamarr Films
  • Plantations
  • Play Adaptation
  • Walter Pidgeon Films

There is so much to be offended by in this openly misogynist, racist, colonialist jungle flick — based on a hit 1923 play, which was in turn based on a novel entitled Hell’s Playground (!) — that, as many viewers have pointed out, its true value lies in its perceived camp appeal. Indeed, TCM refers to it as a “popular mixture of exotica, pulp thrills and over-the-top misogyny”, as well as “a deliciously ripe relic”. With black-faced, shiny-skinned Hedy Lamarr:

… slinking around spouting dialogue like the following to her “prey” (Carlson):

“I’m married to you for five months — and you not beat me once! Awila, please beat me… Then maybe you feel much better. Soon we make up — much love, many bangles.”

… you will simply be slack-jawed throughout. Her pidgin-like speech is peppered with the words “much” and “many” (“Him much nice man.”; “Awila give me much silk and many bangles.”), with the particularly favored phrase “much love, many bangles” repeated at least once. While Tondelayo is referred to at one point as possessing an “innate morality”, there’s really none of that on display here, as she simply evinces a “childlike” simplicity combined with seductive, sociopathic maneuvering. At least Harry Stradling’s cinematography is gorgeous, so that’s a bonus.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Harry Stradling’s dramatic cinematography
  • Some clever dialogue:

    “The natives have been looking at me in a queer sort of way.”
    “Maybe they’re wondering how you can walk without a spine.”

Must See?
No — though of course, if this seems like your cup of tea, you should give it a try!


One thought on “White Cargo (1942)

  1. A once-must, for those who enjoy camp.

    As noted in my Films of the ’40s-’50s group:

    Just finished watching this, after not seeing it for many years. This movie is, in a word…nuts! It’s set in a British rubber plantation in Africa but don’t worry – any possibly interesting plot that might come from the setting is quickly given the heave-ho for deliciously exotic soap suds. ‘Exotic’ is personified by Hedy Lamarr (with eyes kind of like out of ‘Village of the Damned’) – once she enters, the rest of the movie is a fight between Walter Pidgeon (who once ‘knew’ her) and Richard Carlson (who must have her). Balancing things out is Frank (‘Wizard of Oz’) Morgan, a doctor who drinks all the time and still sounds like the Wizard of Oz. This is a great ‘drinking game’ movie. You can chug it back each time you hear Lamarr’s name (Tondelayo) or the thing she likes most (bangles). A very fun bad movie.

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