|"The problem is, a half hour later they|
feel like smuggling them in again. HAHAHA!"
Allan O'Connor, a federal narc, is temporarily assigned to the Immigration Bureau to discover who's behind the Chinese smuggling operation in Los Angeles. As with the hero of Sucker Money, O'Connor is a former actor -- was this a common career move during the Depression or just a convenient way for moviemakers to explain the leading man's, well, leading man's looks? This particular leading man, by the way, is Conrad Nagel, who often resembles James Spader when you least expect it. (Had things been different, Nagel might have starred in Sex, Lies and Flammable Celluloid.)
|"You must be an actor; you're always in|
the same profile."
|Crack reporter Bobbie Reynolds displays her|
Star Trek costume while her photographer
looks on in confusion.
|O'Connor almost gives himself away|
by showing his right profile yet again.
|Two guys in the front seat with a bound & gagged|
woman -- no, nothing suspicious here.
|If LAX looked like this today, I'd live there.|
|"What, another freaking movie?!"|
I was never a big star, so I never had a role like Moses or D'Artagnan. But being assigned to 31 pictures in 24 months, I had an opportunity to play every type of part. The variety, though, didn't keep me from becoming a drug on the market. My wife would say, "Well, let's go out and see a movie tonight." We'd get in the car and discover that I'm playing at the Paramount Theater. And I'm playing at the Universal Theater. And the MGM Theater. We couldn't find a theater where I wasn't playing. So we'd go back home. I was an epidemic.
Thirty-one movies in two years! I've known actors who would destroy any vaccine to be an epidemic like that.
Per usual, it's the character actors who steal the show here. Vince Barnett (Bulbs Callahan) was the archetypal mousie guy who could trip over his own shoelaces even if he wore loafers. He's given several slapstick bits in Yellow Cargo, including sitting on a miniature cactus -- hilarious only because it's so abruptly edited. (You have to see it to understand.) Working well into the 1970s, Barnett's greatest on-screen credit was in 1954's Red Planet Mars where he played Seedy Man Listening to Radio, a part that resonates quite deeply with me.
You wouldn't expect Al Perrelli to be played by an actor named Jack La Rue. But it starts to make sense when you realize he was born Gaspere Biondolillo. La Rue kept pretty busy in B-movie gangster roles, never really graduating to the A-league. You might say he didn't have the range of his contemporaries. Couldn't sing and dance like Cagney or play empathetic like Bogart or cultivate an air of refinement like Robinson. But in his own way La Rue's more convincing than all of them because of his limitations -- I mean, did John Gotti have a lot of range? Jack La Rue looks and talks like an honest-to-God hoodlum. (He's terrifying in the pre-code shocker The Story of Temple Drake.) And if Matt LeBlanc from Friends had entered crime instead of show business, he'd have looked just like him.
It's always interesting to see movies like Yellow Cargo -- that is, those made in pre-enlightened times -- just to hear how casually language deemed insulting today was not only accepted but part of the common vocabulary. The extras portraying "coolies," for instance. Bobbie, trying to remember a Chinese official's name, jokingly comes up with "Long Hot Poo." That's the kind of jape I use at home just to get a rise of out the missus and to make our semi-politically correct 17 year-old daughter laugh in spite of herself. This should give you further evidence, as if any was needed, of my emotional (im)maturity.
So yes, times change. At some point, probably when it was sold to TV in the '50s, the title Yellow Cargo was considered disparaging enough to warrant a change. Take a look at the title credit of the prints now in circulation. If you were Chinese, would this make you feel better about yourself?