Frank Borzage (“A Farewell to Arms”) directs with tact and restraint this adventure film, a star vehicle for Gable then at the height of his popularity in the wake of “Gone With the Wind.”
Eight criminals escape from a New Guinea penal colony and strike through the jungle to the seacoast where a sloop awaits them. Along the way, they meet Verne (Clark Gable), another escaped fugitive, and his girl friend, Julie (Joan Crawford). Verne overcomes Moll (Albert Dekker), the leader of the group, and takes over their command.
Complications arise when they deal with the convict called Cambreau (Ian Hunter), a wild mystical Christ-like figure with a Bible. Cambreau gathers so much power that initially the fugitives are resentful, feeling that he is not one.
However, gradually, his influence draws each one to God and a repentant death. Even M’sieu Pig (Peter Lorre), who has sided with Moll, has his justice in a cruel death. Surrendering to Cambreau, Verne abandons his plan of escape, and declares his willingness to serve out imprisonment, hoping Julie would wait for him.
Gable as the tough convict is well cast, and so is Ian Hunter, as the Christ-like convict who is compassionate without being too mawkish. Crawford, as one critic noted, under one guise or another, has been playing Sadie Thompson so long that the part is almost second nature.
Borzage gives this raw and stark melodrama, which holds suspense from the start, expert directorial touches. The movie is well produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz before he became a director on his own.
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Directed by Frank Borzage.
Screenplay by Lawrence Hazard, based on the book, “Not Too Narrow.”
Adapted by Anita Loos
Camera: Robert Planck.
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons.
Music: Franz Waxman.
Edited by Robert J. Kern.
Release date: March 1, 1940.
Running time: 105 minutes.