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Cargo to Capetown

Cargo to Capetown(1950)

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teaser Cargo to Capetown (1950)

Broderick Crawford had to wait a while for his ship to come in. The grandson of opera singers and the son of a vaudeville showman and an ex-Ziegfeld Girl (Helen Broderick went on to become an organizer of the Screen Actor's Guild, personally recruiting rising Warner Brothers star Ronald Reagan), Crawford was a 26 year-old Harvard drop-out and back from seven months crewing an oil tanker when he was cast as the tragic halfwit Lennie in George S. Kaufman's Broadway staging of Of Mice and Men in 1937. For a fledgling actor, Lennie was the role of a lifetime and afforded Crawford an early (and rare) opportunity to use his brawn in the service of pathos rather than menace. When Lewis Milestone brought the property to the big screen in 1939, Crawford had to stand back as the part went to Lon Chaney, Jr. (a year before The Wolfman bestowed upon Chaney cult immortality as one of Universal Studio's classic monsters).

While there was plenty of work for him in Hollywood, Crawford was most often cast as thugs and lugs (as Marlene Dietrich's bellicose bodyguard in Seven Sinners [1940]) and lawbreakers in crime films both straight-faced (Paramount's Ambush [1939]) and light-hearted (Universal's Butch Minds the Baby [1942]). Exceptions to the rule included his clueless third wheel in the David Niven-Loretta Young romance Eternally Yours (1939) and as a grouchy good guy in Universal's comic mystery The Black Cat (1941), which also featured Alan Ladd a year before his own breakout performance as the assassin anti-hero of Frank Tuttle's This Gun for Hire (1942).

After more than a decade in the movie business (and with greater than thirty films under his belt), Crawford got the second role of his lifetime, as Willie Stark in Robert Rossen's All the King's Men (1949), a fictionalized account of the rise and bullet-ridden fall of Louisiana politico Hughie Long. Crawford would take home the "Best Actor" award the following spring at the Academy Awards® celebration and the prestige helped him land another choice part opposite Judy Holliday and William Holden in Columbia's Born Yesterday (1950). (Garson Kanin had offered Crawford the role of bullying junk dealer Harry Brock for his 1946 Broadway production; hurting for cash and holding out for fatter Hollywood paychecks, Crawford turned down the part, which went to and made a star of fellow Philadelphian Paul Douglas.)

Immediately after the end of principal photography on All the King's Men (and several months before its November 1949 release), Columbia plugged Crawford and costars John Ireland (who would lose the "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar to Twelve O'Clock High's Dean Jagger) and Joanne Drew (ex-wife of crooner Dick Haymes, soon to be the second Mrs. John Ireland) into the shipboard melodrama Cargo to Capetown (1950).

The film was originally called The Tougher They Come, a title later grafted onto a Ray Nazarro picture starring Wayne Morris and Preston Foster, released in November 1950. At the helm was first-time director Earl McEvoy, who had put in a dozen years at Metro as an assistant director on such productions as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Bad Bascomb (1946) and It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) before jumping ship and signing with MGM. McEvoy would direct just two more pictures The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) with Dorothy Malone and The Barefoot Mailman (1951) with Bob Cummings before his early retirement to Connecticut and untimely death in 1959.

Producing Cargo to Capetown was scenarist Lionel Houser. Born Lionel Francis Hauser in New York in 1908, the Stanford-educated writer worked by day as a reporter for The New York World Telegram while writing novels by night. Houser's familiarity with the crime beat won him a job scripting gangster films in Hollywood. Despite earning up to $1,000 a week, he was unhappy with the work and frustrated by his inability to graduate to more quality assignments. Turning his back on the industry, Houser hopped the steamer President Coolidge and sailed the Far East, visiting Hong Kong, Manila and Shanghai. Houser's time at sea clearly inspired Cargo to Capetown but he would not live to see the result. Less than five months before the film was released, Lionel Houser was felled by a massive heart attack and died on November 12, 1949. He was 41 years old.

Prior to its week-long run at the Pantages and Hillstreet cinemas (where it was billed with the Jungle Jim vehicle Captive Girl, starring Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe), Cargo to Capetown was previewed for critics on the Columbia lot on April 6, 1950. If the studio's expectations were low for this sea-tossed soap opera, their rewards were appropriately modest. The New York Times's Bosley Crowther found the film "only a mild adventure" and had his own little dig at statue-winner Crawford by averring that that the performances were "not in the Academy Award tradition." Fortnight noted that "no device for the titillation of juvenile reflexes is overlooked in this potpourri of derring-do" while Variety declared Cargo to Capetown only fair entertainment marred by "over-sentimental passages." The Hollywood Citizen News considered the production "O.K. for youthful minds" and Film Daily voiced the minority opinion that Cargo to Capetown offered "plenty of spectacle." While some critics lauded McEvoy for his energetic direction, most found fault with Lionel Houser's script, which was stamped "routine" and "formula" and, according to The Motion Picture Herald, was written and produced "with a minimum of imagination."

While Broderick Crawford could look forward to an immediate future in high profile starring roles in Born Yesterday, The Mob (1951) and Federico Fellini's Il Bidone (aka, The Swindlers, 1955), costar John Ireland was growing dissatisfied with his lot as a Columbia contract player. Not content to play third banana to Crawford and Glenn Ford in the prison drama One Way Out, a remake of The Criminal Code (1931) eventually released as Convicted (1950), Ireland petitioned the Supreme Court to break his contract. The actor found himself suspended by Columbia and sued by the studio, losing out on the lead role in M (1951), Joseph Losey's remake of the Fritz Lang original. The contretemps was the beginning of a lifetime of legal entanglements. Ireland soon found himself back in court answering to his ex-wife for unpaid child support and later sued the producers of the proposed Adventures of Ellery Queen series for announcing and then dropping him as its star in favor of Hugh Marlowe. Divorced from Ellen Drew in 1958, Ireland declared bankruptcy for the first time in 1959, following the failure of his Phoenix tennis club. Like Crawford, he was a scandal sheet perennial who found more lucrative work opportunities on American television in the 1950s and in European co-productions from the mid-60s on. In 1987, a 73-year-old Ireland spent $2,000 on a back page ad in The Hollywood Reporter that read: "I am an actor...PLEASE let me act." The gambit worked and Ireland was hired to replace the late Lorne Green in a Bonanza reunion telefilm that aired the following year. John Ireland died of leukemia in 1992.

Producer: Lionel Houser
Director: Earl McEvoy
Screenplay: Lionel Houser
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Film Editing: William Lyon
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Music: George Duning
Cast: Broderick Crawford (Johnny Phelan), John Ireland (Steve Conway), Ellen Drew (Kitty Mellar), Edgar Buchanan (Sam Bennett), Ted de Corsia (Rhys), Robert Espinoza (Rik).

by Richard Harland Smith

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