racechanging: White Cargo

White Cargo

Shortly after returning to a rubber plantation in the west African jungle overseer Worthing chats with fellow Englishman about life on the plantation back in 1910. Langford, a naïve new assistant arrives from Britain; warned of damp rot and Tondelayo (Hedy Lamarr), a beautiful but greedy half-caste, who roams through the area bewitching lonely white men, he insists that he is incorruptible.

Within months he is drinking heavily and his rubber trees are dying – easy meat for Tondelayo. Soon they are married but some months later the new Mrs Langford complains that he is not giving her enough bangles and silk. Bored she slinks into the overseer’s bungalow and tries to seduce him but he coldly informs her that she is stuck with Langford ‘till death do you part’. Tondelayo begins to poison her husband but the overseer recognises the symptoms and confronts Tondelayo forcing her to drink the vial of poison. As the ‘white cargo’, the recuperating Langford, is loaded on to the supply boat the overseer greets Langford’s unsuspecting replacement.

The New York Times said:

It has given Hedy Lamarr a mahogany finish, a limited vocabulary and a few dry goods and turned her loose to play Tondelayo with whatever else she happens to have.

This was the second movie version of the 1923 play (itself based on a novel): the 1929 semi-talkie featured Gypsy Rhouma as Tondelayo. In the original play Tondelayo was described throughout as a ‘negress’ but this caused problems with the Hayes Code and eventually ‘the script was deemed acceptable, with the stipulation that Tondelayo's presumed black parentage not be mentioned at all in the dialogue’ (TCM).

The makeup

Jack Dawn was the makeup designer.