Noirvember 2018, Episode 15: Borderline (1950)
Directed by William A. Seiter
Produced by Milton H. Bren
Screenplay and story by Devery Freeman
Cinematography by Lucien Andriot
Distributed by Universal International
(1:28) New to me - borrowed from a friend
Bill Whittaker (Morris Ankrum), working for the U.S. Treasury Department, needs someone to go undercover to get the goods on Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr) and his Mexican drug smuggling operation. LAPD cop Madeleine Haley (Claire Trevor) volunteers for the job and heads down to Mexico, posing as a chorus girl named Gladys La Rue. Working on Ritchie’s flunky Deusik (Don Diamond), Madeleine gets close enough to Ritchie to get the goods on him.
Just when things are looking promising, Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray), henchman of rival drug smuggler Harvey Gumbin (Roy Roberts), breaks up the party and takes Madeline with him. What Madeline doesn’t know is that Macklin is also working undercover for the good guys as a federal agent.
Borderline begins well with several convincing noir touches, but soon disintegrates into a dismal undercover version of It Happened One Night. Neither MacMurray nor Trevor can do much to salvage the picture, but Burr makes for a good villain as long as we believe (for about the first 20 minutes) that we’re in a noir and not a goofy romantic comedy. Borderline also contains the most laughable “inconspicuous” phone call in cinematic history.
Neither Madeleine or Macklin are smart enough to realize that they’re on the same side for a long time and the would-be comedic “South of the Border” touches fall embarrassingly flat. Devery Freeman’s script may not be a winner, but give him credit for becoming one of the founders of the Screen Writers’ Guild, which helped bolster the rights of screenwriters.
Unless you’re a hardcore Fred MacMurray or Claire Trevor fan, it’s probably a good idea not to venture across the Borderline this Noirvember.
Next time: Aunt Bee in Victorian England???
Photos: Deranged LA Crimes, The Art and Culture of Movies, B Noir Detour, Streamline