The Look 2: Lukas Rejects

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Reminder: I’ve embarked on an occasional series about moments when actors look at the camera.

A tricky one — I wasn’t sure if I was remembering this correctly.

But when I think of actors looking at the camera, I always think of Paul Lukas in STRANGE CARGO (1940), or STRANGE FILM as surely somebody else must have called it.

Frank Borzage’s films were often religious, or spiritual, or whatever you want to call it, but this one is a full-blown allegory, with Ian Hunter unusually effective as the Christ figure, who is part of an all-star group of escaped convicts including Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Peter Lorre.

Lukas plays a serial killer of women — for profit. He leaves the group midway through the film to take up his profession again. Hunter has been on at him to repent of his sinful ways. Lukas leaves, but after doing so, when he is alone apart from US — he turns, glances about in the direction of the camera — eyes flickering wildly so that for a moment I was afraid my memory was playing me false and he wasn’t going to do it — and then he looks right down the barrel of the lens and says, very firmly —

“No.”

Borzage’s camera, which has been following Lukas, seems to have become briefly identified with the eye of God. This is Lukas’ final rejection of the grace of God. Delivered to us. As if we were all, collectively, the best stand-in for the deity that Borzage could think of.

So that’s nice of him.

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10 Responses to “The Look 2: Lukas Rejects”

  1. “The Devil and Daniel Webster” ends with the devil (Walter Huston) looking at the camera and cheerfully adding something to his notebook. Audience as the damned.

  2. Yes! Or at least the next potential mark. As the movie suggests, in a very American way, even Faust has a chance if he gets himself a smart lawyer.

  3. chris schneider Says:

    Doesn’t Ulmer’s THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN end with an address to the audience? “What would you do?” the doctor asks us, as if yearning to launch into Lotte Lenya’s song in the stage CABARET.

  4. I never made it to the end of that one, for some reason. Time to revisit. Am I right in saying it has lots of POV shots, as a cheap way of doing the “invisible man” bit?

  5. This Lukas close-up looks like a outtake from Island of Lost Souls

  6. Well, it’s a very overheated, tropical island movie, not a world away from Moreau’s beast-men.

  7. one of my favourite Borzages – and your comment about the audience is apt, given Gable’s storm tossed oration on the deck of the ship, in which he comes to the realisation that we are all god

  8. Of course! That’s the trouble with writing from memory and only re-viewing one moment…

  9. ooh I like those moments. Sharon Farrell saying, “I’m getting out of here” and Linda Manz looking into the camera and saying, “That’s right” at the end of Out of the Blue. (That’s how I remember it anyway – having not seen it for ages.)

  10. I vguely remember the ending of that one being good, and I vaguely remember I didn’t much like the rest of it. But just the IDEA of Manz looking at us is appealing.

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