Strange Cargo (1940)

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Original plot
Clark Gable breaks out of a worker prison camp and enters a game of Survivor with Joan Crawford and spirits.

Big thoughts
Alligators, snakes, shipwrecks! And then a hard veer into repentance and worship.

The Random Remake
Julie (Ellen Page) is a United Nations worker in Myanmar in relief of a Muslim refugee camp. She is pleasant to the military soldiers in the area, but only to keep herself out of harm’s way. One of the soldiers, Thurein (Tony Jaa), teases her in front of his comrades but is friendly to her in private. He even helps her sneak in medical supplies for the refugees. In their burgeoning friendship, Thurein tells Julie that he has family in Thailand and though he’s stuck in his role as a soldier he doesn’t see the need for ethnic violence. In fact, he is part of a group of soldiers wanting to defect to Thailand, using his ties there to resettle.

Julie has also become friends with a refugee named Mahabote (Nirut Sirichanya). She tells him of some of the soldiers’ desire to leave, and he says she should foster this sentiment – an abandoned camp would be better than what it is now. Julie and Thurein talk of how to escape, and he says he’ll only do it if she comes along. She protests, talking of her job and caring for the refugees. Thurein then says there are hints that foreigners – even relief workers – and going to be in danger. She says she’ll go along, but only if Mahabote comes, too.

The group, with their strange cargo of limited supplies, sneaks out of the camp and snakes its way up a river toward Thailand. Along the way, Mahabote interrogates individual soldiers as to their atrocities against his people – and after Mahabote gets them to confess, a fatal malady happens upon them (drowning, starvation, animal attack). As they reach Thailand only Julie, Thurein, and Mahabote remain – and Mahabote begins talking vaguely spiritually about the promise land and only those who are pure can enter. Thurein gets mad at the proselytizing and threatens Mahabote. Julie steps in to counter Mahabote’s claims, seemingly knowing the true intentions, and says that one’s soul can be cleansed by good even if he does so unintentionally. Mahabote smiles, agrees and keeps walking through a boatyard that Thurein’s contacts have opened for him. Julie and Thurein follow then pass Mahabote, who stays behind. Thurein says he will agree to help Julie find the local UN office, and they leave. As we watch Mahabote in the boatyard suddenly a large group of people come up from the river – the refugees from the abandoned camp followed them up the river.

The pitch
Strange Cargo: Heavy souls, heavy burdens

Next up: Big Combo (1955)

All Through The Night (1941)

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Original plot
Slapstick, one-liners, sex jokes and … Nazis!?! Bogie stumbles on a sleeper cell in New York while being framed for murder.

Big thoughts
Bogie cold-cocks some dame just to shut her up and the ending effects look worse than the model train going around my Christmas tree. No wonder I never heard of this movie. Peter Lorre kills it though, as always. And props for making sure to match the amount of bullets in the revolver – I was counting!

The Random Remake
It’s the 1940s, and Al Donahue (Michael Fassbender!) is a former low-level Southern sports star who has moved on to recruiting at Humphrey College, a Southern powerhouse college. All through the night he drives and takes the bus from high school to high school, to try to evaluate athletes. One of his visits lands him with Freddie “Sunshine” Davis (Doc Shaw), a black player from a Texas high school hoping to go pro. Davis is clearly gifted but was left off of awards list because of racial bias. Donahue sees a star and tells Davis to keep up the fight and that he’ll be advocating for him.

Donahue gets resistance from the higher-ups when he starts his case for putting Sunshine on the team. They tell him the boosters will never let it go. One of those boosters, Charlie Ebbing (Tim Blake Nelson), even visits him at a local diner and intimidates him. Ebbing tells Donahue that he isn’t as well known in the town as the coach or the athletic director and that “no one would miss you.” But Donahue persists, even telling Davis to expect to matriculate in the fall. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Donahue is framed for beating up a local waitress Leda Hamilton (Katey Sagal) (who’s threatened to lie) and Donahue decides to hide out and try to clear his name. In that investigation he gets close to Ebbing’s underlings, posing as a racist. What he discovers one night is worse than threats to his college – the loose network plans to firebomb a nearby college’s facilities because of its integration. He sees Hamilton around and recruits her to his way – telling her he’s taking everyone down. But Donahue is uncovered by Ebbing, who plans to burn him in the fire. Donahue manages to get free with Hamilton’s help as Ebbing tries to set up the gas-canister bomb. Donahue wrests the gas canister free from Ebbing but it spills onto Ebbing and ignites from Ebbing’s torch, killing him. Later, Davis takes the field in his season debut, but the crowd is subdued. “This is just the start of a rough road, kid,” Donahue tells him. “All I care about is the end zone,” Davis replies.

The pitch
All Through The Night: The end zone is just the beginning

Next up: Strange Cargo (1940)

Tortilla Flat (1942)

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Original plot
A bunch of “friends” try to con people out of their inheritance and life savings.

Big thoughts
Spencer Tracy (Spencer Bonaventure Tracy, an Irish Catholic from Wisconsin) plays a Mexican. At least the Wizard of Oz next to him has some Venezuelan in him. This is like Daniel Day-Lewis playing a Native American. … Oh, yeah – nevermind.

The Random Remake
Daniel Alvino (Daryl Sabara) is new a student at Massachusetts State, a small liberal-arts establishment in the western part of the state. The place is one of those hippy places that don’t give out grades or assignments or tests. But Danny, the son of a wealthy telecom investor, is a naïve coddled young man whom his parents fear would not thrive at the big universities. Or so Danny tells his new hallmate, Dolores (Grace Phipps). Danny tries to impress Dolores with his family’s history and importance. Dolores, a second-year student, isn’t swayed by Danny’s social standing, but she does like his brashness. She tells him this isn’t the kind of place where his family’s wealth will mean anything. She welcomes him to “Tortilla Flat” – the nickname the students have given to their boring, white, one-story outdated dormitory into which he’s just moved.

Upon setting up his new room, Danny is met by someone who has been popping his head into each of the opened doors of the dorm’s floor. The man, who is noticeably older than the other students, says his name is Pylon (T.J. Miller) – a nickname he got because of his strong nature. “I hold everything – and everyone – up,” he says. “I’m a good support structure – especially in a place like this.” Pylon’s eyes gloss over Danny’s room, noticing a few key items: The expensive clothes, the expensive phone, the expensive laptop, etc. Pylon says he is going to make it his mission to acclimate Danny into the college. “I am going to be your support structure, amigo.”

Soon we see Pylon inviting Danny to parties and showing him around some of the areas of the downtown. Whenever they eat or buy beer, Pylon tells Danny he is short on cash because he is helping his family out, or his rent went up, or he spent it all getting Danny a parking permit (even though Danny doesn’t have a car), etc. Dolores knows Pylon’s schemes (we even see Pylon pulling some of the same schemes on other students in and around campus) and tells Danny to be wary of him. But Pylon smart-talks his way back into Danny’s good graces, promising to talk to Dolores and get her to reciprocate Danny’s flirtations (but instead he hints to Dolores that Danny’s not into her).

Due to Pylon’s pursuit of weed and not working, he’s soon without an apartment – and so he worms his way into Danny’s dorm. Then Danny’s friend the The Pirate is living there, too. Danny confesses to The Pirate that he doesn’t like Pylon taking advantage of him, but he knows Pylon is a good student with ambition that he should look up to. The Pirate laughs, telling him that Pylon’s not a student – he’s 27 and got kicked out in the middle of his first year, and now gloms off students who don’t know better. He even dispels the myth of Pylon’s nickname – “It’s because he stole the high school football pylon, you know that thing in the end zone. He made a bong out of it. Truth is, we both just absorb what we can from other people – why do think I’m called Pirate?”

Danny feels taken advantage of, and he tells Pylon off, even evicting The Pirate as well. Pylon moves onto another target, but his heart just isn’t it. In living with Danny, in seeing his earnestness, Pylon is a changed man. Danny’s honest ways and his constant pursuit of Dolores have had an impact on Pylon. When Pylon’s running a scheme in a bar, he sees Dolores with a bunch of friends and he stops his game and is about to leave when Dolores stops him. She asks what he did to Danny, as she’s noticed he hasn’t been sweetly hounding her. He says that Danny threw him out. “Sounds kinda harsh,” she says. “Nah,” he answers. “It’s the way it goes.”

Dolores goes to find Danny and when they’re talking Danny pulls a small scheme on her, using some of the same smart-guy lines from Pylon to get her to agree to his way of thinking. He realizes what he’s doing but does it anyway. They make out a bit, scenes dissolves. We see Danny inside one of his hippy classes and the professor asks about doing an exercise about what they’ve learned from the semester using a person from their lives. At Danny’s turn he stumbles to think of anyone except for Pylon, but he can’t. He smiles, remembering all the goofy, stoned-philosopher lines from Pylon. “I know this guy,” Danny begins. “He’s a good support structure.”

Last scene is Danny at the cafeteria, sitting with Dolores, getting a free extra taco from his server, Pylon – who winks at him. “Know any good parties tonight,” Danny asks him.

The pitch
The Dorms of Tortilla Flat: Freeloading comes at a cost

Next up: All Through The Night (1941)