Sunday 17 December 2023

Movie Review: Border Incident (1949)

Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Anthony Mann
Starring: Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Howard Da Silva
Running Time: 94 minutes

Synopsis: Border agents Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) and Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) team-up to investigate a human smuggling ring exploiting agriculture workers across the America-Mexico border. Both men go undercover: Rodriguez as a worker seeking to cross the border, Bearnes as an on-the-run criminal in possession of coveted false immigration documents. They tangle with various minions up the chain of command, leading to the criminal mastermind: wealthy American land owner Owen Parkson (Howard Da Silva).

What Works Well: The investigative elements are solid and invest in exposing the multiple layers of goons, lieutenants, and internal tensions in a criminal enterprise. Director Anthony Mann, in an early big-studio but still small-budget production, captures the sweaty desperation of low-skilled workers risking everything for better economic opportunities. Working mostly at night and leveraging desert-and-canyon western aesthetics, Mann also crafts a couple of excellent highlights, one involving a combine harvester and the second featuring quicksand. 

What Does Not Work As Well: Both the narration (text-book style) and dual-country jingoism are amateurish. The pacing is tripped up by minutia, the John C. Higgins script occupying itself with details instead of depth, culminating in a dubious climax of muddled loyalties.

Conclusion: The money is always greener on the other side of the border.

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