Border Incident

Released Oct. 28, 1949: BORDER INCIDENT, starring Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, and Howard Da Silva. Directed by Anthony Mann (Strange Impersonation, Desperate, The Naked Spur). Montalban and Murphy play Mexican and American immigration agents respectively, who go undercover to crack a corrupt ring of smugglers that shuttles illegal Mexican workers (braceros) into the US, then robs and murders them on their return trip home. This must’ve been BorderIncidentan eye-opening film in 1949, but even today, it loses none of its intensity or relevance. The film starts with a dispassionate narrator, reminiscent of an old industrial documentary, dryly explaining the importance of Mexican immigrant labor in California’s Imperial Valley. Fortunately the lecture is brief, and soon we’re plunged head-first into a gritty, unforgiving world of corruption and human exploitation. Every scene oozes with atmosphere and energy. Collaborating with cinematographer John Alton, Mann creates a visual masterpiece using deep focus, low angles, stark closeups, and heavy shadows. The composition of shots in closed spaces often combines disturbingly near facial closeups along with background action in deep focus, creating subtly unsettling images.  The cast includes many interesting faces, especially among the villains, and Mann makes the most of them with jarring closeups chiseled in deep shadows.  The tractor scene near the end of the movie is one of the most terrifying sequences in any noir film, and is shot superbly to maximize the terror and anguish of the poor victim. Due to the Hays Code, no graphic violence or gore could be shown, but that just makes it all the more horrific as we’re left to imagine the most gruesome outcome. All of the cast members deliver immersive and believable performances. Montalban displays equal parts toughness, compassion, and intelligence. Murphy is perfect as the all-American hero type who is afraid of nothing. Howard Da Silva and Charles MacGraw make excellent, but very different, villains; one uses his intellect and wealth, the other, brute force and a gun. Both are equally dangerous. This is a beautifully shot and thoroughly absorbing movie, that despite it’s unconventional subject matter, is an excellent example of film noir. We give Border Incident 5 out of 5 fedoras.

5 Fedoras

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