White Cargo (1942)

89 mins | Drama | September 1942

Director:

Richard Thorpe

Writer:

Leon Gordon

Producer:

Victor Saville

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling

Production Designer:

Steve Rosenzweig

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Snippets of the song "Rootity-Toot, She Plays the Flute" and "Home, Sweet, Home" are heard in this film. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library, the miscegenation element of Leon Gordon's story caused great censorship difficulties, beginning with the U.S. distribution of a 1929 British screen adaptation of his play, also entitled White Cargo . As noted in articles included in the MPAA/PCA files, in accordance with the MPPA's 1924 agreement of self-imposed censorship, MPPA head Will Hays deemed the play unacceptable material for screen adaptation and effectively banned any studios from producing it. [In the play, "Tondelayo" is described throughout as a "negress."] The Mar 1930 New York release of the British film, which was directed by J. B. Williams and Arthur Barnes and starred Leslie Faber and Gypsy Rhouma, generated complaints from industry insiders, who felt that its distribution in the U.S. violated the spirit of Hays's decree.
       In 1938, when producer Val Lewton, then with Selznick-International, inquired about making an American screen version, the PCA advised him that Gordon's play was still on the "condemned list" and would have to be "put through the formula" before it could be approved. Lewton apparently dropped the idea, but in Oct 1941, M-G-M hired Gordon to adapt his play and submitted a draft to the PCA. The PCA informed M-G-M that while "improvements" had been made over the play, problems still existed in the screenplay, specifically the fact that news of Tondelayo's non-black parentage is withheld from the audience until the end, giving "most of the picture the flavor of miscegenation." In Nov 1941, however, a ... More Less

Snippets of the song "Rootity-Toot, She Plays the Flute" and "Home, Sweet, Home" are heard in this film. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library, the miscegenation element of Leon Gordon's story caused great censorship difficulties, beginning with the U.S. distribution of a 1929 British screen adaptation of his play, also entitled White Cargo . As noted in articles included in the MPAA/PCA files, in accordance with the MPPA's 1924 agreement of self-imposed censorship, MPPA head Will Hays deemed the play unacceptable material for screen adaptation and effectively banned any studios from producing it. [In the play, "Tondelayo" is described throughout as a "negress."] The Mar 1930 New York release of the British film, which was directed by J. B. Williams and Arthur Barnes and starred Leslie Faber and Gypsy Rhouma, generated complaints from industry insiders, who felt that its distribution in the U.S. violated the spirit of Hays's decree.
       In 1938, when producer Val Lewton, then with Selznick-International, inquired about making an American screen version, the PCA advised him that Gordon's play was still on the "condemned list" and would have to be "put through the formula" before it could be approved. Lewton apparently dropped the idea, but in Oct 1941, M-G-M hired Gordon to adapt his play and submitted a draft to the PCA. The PCA informed M-G-M that while "improvements" had been made over the play, problems still existed in the screenplay, specifically the fact that news of Tondelayo's non-black parentage is withheld from the audience until the end, giving "most of the picture the flavor of miscegenation." In Nov 1941, however, a revised draft of the script was deemed acceptable, with the stipulation that Tondelayo's presumed black parentage not be mentioned at all in the dialogue.
       White Cargo marked Bramwell Fletcher's return to the screen after a seven-year absence. According to a HR news item, credited dance director Ernst Matray worked with his wife Maria on the film. Although HR news items list The Islanders as cast members, their appearance in the final film is doubtful. Marvel Maxwell also was announced in the cast, but his appearance in the final film cannot be confirmed. NYT reviewer Bosley Crowther named White Cargo one of the ten worst films of 1942. According to PCA records, the Legion of Decency placed the picture in its "C" or condemned class, and the film was banned in Singapore and Trinidad because of its "racial implications" and "taboo relationship." The Burma (now Myanmar) board of censors banned the film because of its portrayal of "racial hatred." The scene in which Hedy Lamarr first appears and utters the line, "I am Tondelayo" has been included in documentaries on memorable moments from motion pictures. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
19 Sep 1942.
---
Daily Variety
15 Sep 42
p. 3.
Film Daily
16 Sep 42
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 42
P. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 42
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 42
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 42
p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Sep 42
p. 923.
New York Times
27 Nov 42
p. 27.
Variety
16 Sep 42
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
Native cost
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Rec dir
DANCE
Dance dir
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play White Cargo by Leon Gordon (New York, 5 Nov 1923), which was based on the novel Hell's Playground by Ida Vera Simonton (New York, 1912).
DETAILS
Release Date:
September 1942
Production Date:
18 May--early July 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
15 September 1942
Copyright Number:
LP11688
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
89
Length(in feet):
8,099
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8627
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

Shortly after returning to a rubber plantation in the west African jungle, overseer Worthing chats with fellow Englishman Jim Fish about life on the plantation in 1910: Harry Witzel, the plantation's cynical overseer, and his assistant, Wilbur Ashley, await the arrival of the river boat, which is taking Ashley back to England after four years of service. Although Witzel is happy to see the whining Ashley leave, he dreads meeting Ashley's replacement, who is coming in on the boat. As Witzel explains to the plantation's alcoholic doctor, the replacement will be uninformed and unprepared, and will make the same insipid comments that all the new recruits make. Witzel's predictions prove accurate, when the replacement, Langford, bounds into Witzel's bungalow full of naïve enthusiasm, uttering inane remarks about the jungle. Although Witzel, who suffers from recurring bouts of malaria, tries to warn Langford about the "damp rot" that destroys white men's souls, Langford insists he is incorruptible. That night, Langford, Witzel, the doctor, Reverend Roberts, the local missionary, Skipper, the boat's captain, and his mate Ted share a farewell feast with Ashley. During the drunken festivities, the men discuss Tondelayo, a beautiful but greedy half-caste, who roams through the area bewitching lonely white men. Witzel, who also functions as the local magistrate, has banned Tondelayo from the district and tells Langford that she is a conniving seductress. After Ashley departs on the boat, Tondelayo sneaks into Langford's bungalow and introduces herself with an enticing smile. Concerned about Langford's obvious interest in Tondelayo, Witzel has her escorted out of the jungle, but not before Langford gives her some money. Five months later, Witzel criticizes ... +


Shortly after returning to a rubber plantation in the west African jungle, overseer Worthing chats with fellow Englishman Jim Fish about life on the plantation in 1910: Harry Witzel, the plantation's cynical overseer, and his assistant, Wilbur Ashley, await the arrival of the river boat, which is taking Ashley back to England after four years of service. Although Witzel is happy to see the whining Ashley leave, he dreads meeting Ashley's replacement, who is coming in on the boat. As Witzel explains to the plantation's alcoholic doctor, the replacement will be uninformed and unprepared, and will make the same insipid comments that all the new recruits make. Witzel's predictions prove accurate, when the replacement, Langford, bounds into Witzel's bungalow full of naïve enthusiasm, uttering inane remarks about the jungle. Although Witzel, who suffers from recurring bouts of malaria, tries to warn Langford about the "damp rot" that destroys white men's souls, Langford insists he is incorruptible. That night, Langford, Witzel, the doctor, Reverend Roberts, the local missionary, Skipper, the boat's captain, and his mate Ted share a farewell feast with Ashley. During the drunken festivities, the men discuss Tondelayo, a beautiful but greedy half-caste, who roams through the area bewitching lonely white men. Witzel, who also functions as the local magistrate, has banned Tondelayo from the district and tells Langford that she is a conniving seductress. After Ashley departs on the boat, Tondelayo sneaks into Langford's bungalow and introduces herself with an enticing smile. Concerned about Langford's obvious interest in Tondelayo, Witzel has her escorted out of the jungle, but not before Langford gives her some money. Five months later, Witzel criticizes Langford for allowing sixty percent of the rubber trees under his care to die. Although Langford insists that he merely needs to become "acclimatized," a word Witzel detests, Witzel accuses him of succumbing to "damp rot." Witzel calls Langford, who has started to drink heavily, lazy and incompetent, while Langford complains that Witzel is an ineffective supervisor. Soon after, Tondelayo returns to Langford's bungalow and tries to seduce him with her dancing. Langford does his best to resist, and when Witzel suddenly appears, she hides in his bedroom. Afraid of Witzel, who used to be her lover, Tondelayo convinces Langford to meet her in the jungle the next night, then disappears. Two months later, Tondelayo and Langford finally reunite in the jungle, but she still refuses to go near Witzel. Langford decides to solve the problem, and spite Witzel at the same time, by marrying Tondelayo. Shocked that he would consider marrying not only a self-serving temptress but a half-black as well, Witzel and the other whites try to talk him out of it. Langford, however, refuses to back down, especially after he learns that Tondelayo is actually half-Egyptian and half-Arabic. Five months later, "Mrs. Langford," as Tondelayo likes to call herself, complains to her husband that he is not giving her enough bangles and silk. The bored Tondelayo then slinks into Witzel's bungalow and tries to seduce him, but he coldly informs her that she is stuck with Langford "till death do you part." Moments later, Langford sees Tondelayo struggling with Witzel and, assuming the worst, attacks him. Witzel soon knocks Langford out, impressing Tondelayo. Taking Witzel's words to heart, Tondelayo acquires some deadly "berry juice" and begins to poison her husband. The doctor assumes Langford has contracted malaria and prescribes doses of quinine, which Tondelayo replaces with berry juice. Eventually, Witzel recognizes Langford's unusual symptoms and accuses Tondelayo of poisoning her now comatose husband. Although Tondelayo protests her innocence, Witzel forces her to drink the entire vial of juice. Her fatal punishment enacted, Tondelayo runs screaming into the jungle and collapses. Later, as Skipper loads his "white cargo," the recuperating Langford and the doctor, onto his boat, Witzel greets Langford's unsuspecting replacement, Worthing. In the present, Worthing concludes his story and yells at Jim when he uses the word "acclimatized." +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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