Devil’s Cargo (1948)

2019 #93
John F. Link | 62 mins | digital (SD) | 4:3 | USA / English

Devil's Cargo

The history of the fictional detective known as ‘the Falcon’ is a bit complicated (if you want a full summary, try this Wikipedia article), but the short version is that, between 1941 and 1946, RKO produced a series of 13 films featuring the character, starring first George Sanders and then his brother, Tom Conway. You can find my reviews of the series collated across these four posts. (The series is also noteworthy for containing the first screen adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel: the third film, The Falcon Takes Over, was based on Farewell, My Lovely, two years before it was more famously filmed as Murder, My Sweet.)

A couple of years after RKO’s Falcon series ended, Film Classics picked up the mantle, casting magician John Calvert as a different version of the character. Their series only lasted three films, of which this first is the most readily available, because it’s public domain. (Consequently, I’ve yet to see the next two. Writing this has reminded me that I was meant to be tracking them down…)

The plot has nothing to do with cargo, belonging to Satan or otherwise. Rather, it’s the usual murder mystery setup: a playboy has been shot to death, a crook confesses his guilt to the Falcon, certain he’ll be acquitted due to his motives being (kinda) pure, but then he’s murdered too. It all unfolds as a surprisingly decent little mystery — no great head-scratcher, but it offers enough twists and turns to keep it lively. The conclusion may stretch credibility, and our hero more chances upon the identity of the killer than actually deduces it, but it suffices for a short B-movie.

“Magic your way outta this!”

Calvert is decent as the Falcon. He’s no Sanders or Conway, and he has the slight stiffness of a non-professional having a crack at acting, but he’s just about charming enough to carry it off. I’ve definitely seen worse performances in similar roles. I have no idea how famous or acclaimed he was as a magician, so I don’t know if the film’s references to magic and inclusion of tricks is meant as an amusing nod to his original vocation, or it was required to placate the leading man’s ego. I can imagine the production meeting, though… “We want to integrate your magic tricks into the plot.” “How?” “Well, a criminal asks you to show him some tricks, so you do.” I’m not kidding, that’s literally what happens. On the bright side, he has a sidekick dog, Brain Trust, who is cute and occasionally useful.

As these ’40s detective B-series go, Devil’s Cargo is far from top-tier; but I’ve also seen worse — it’s better than it really ought to be.

3 out of 5

4 thoughts on “Devil’s Cargo (1948)

  1. Its a shame when you know that quality-wise, its the best its ever going to get (and will likely only get worse over time). I’ve seen some really poor-quality prints of older films on Amazon, really shockingly bad-VHS bad., and I wonder if its the streamer simply not caring or if that’s just the way it is- the alternative is simply not being able to watch it all.

    And then Howard the Duck gets released in 4K. Cue Rod Serling monologue…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s crazy to think: we know that many films from the silent era are lost, and that’s something The Film Community is sad about, but how many films from later decades are technically surviving but may as well be lost due to lack of care in their preservation, or simply not being deemed worthy of release on modern formats?

      These three ‘additional’ Falcon films are a perfect case in point: clearly they survive, but what motive does whoever owns the rights have to invest money in fresh scans or whatever? There’s a fanbase for something like the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmeses, meaning they’ve been well cared for and presented on home media, but even the RKO Falcon films barely merited DVD releases or rare TV airings, never mind these ones that are basically a footnote.

      Will a similar fate one day befall our modern stuff? We think it’s all saved and backed up, but what if someone forgets to transfer it to a new file format or whatever, and it eventually becomes unreadable, or the one hard drive it’s on corrodes and is never recoverable. It’s not going to happen to Important movies, obviously, but how much stuff is going to disappear that way? And, if it’s stuff of minor historical import, how much does it actually matter?

      Like

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