Border Incident (1949)
Directed by Anthony Mann
Produced by Nicholas Nayfack
Screenplay by John C. Higgins
Story by George Zuckerman
Cinematography by John Alton
Music by André Previn
Edited by Conrad A. Nervig
(1:34) Warner DVD - Rewatch (previously watched in 2006)
Anthony Mann’s Border Incident doesn’t flinch for one second and sadly it’s still as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1949.
Ricardo Montalban (above right) plays Pablo Rodriguez, a Mexican federal agent working with his American counterpart Jack Bearnes (George Murphy, below right) in an attempted undercover crackdown on the racketeers exploiting illegal migrant workers (known as braceros) along the Mexico/California border. Howard Da Silva plays racketeer boss Owen Parkson, a man with so many men at his disposal, he never needs to get his own hands dirty. Parkson’s main hatchet men is Jeff Amboy (Charles McGraw), who understands that Parkson calls the shots in this organization, but things could easily change.
While Rodriguez poses as a bracero, Bearnes follows close by, keeping an eye on the contacts Rodriguez makes along the way, waiting for enough evidence to nab Parkson. Only things don’t go as planned…
Border Incident is one of several collaborations between director Mann and cinematographer John Alton and the results are stunning. Although the film departs from the normal noir backdrop of a city, Alton’s shots create just as much dread and despair as if we were in darkened alleys and backroom dives. Mann and Alton used McGraw previously as a brutal killer in T-Men (1947), and know how to make him just as deadly (or perhaps more so) here, with one of the most brutal executions in film noir.
Although the film contains many of my favorite character actors, including Arnold Moss, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Jack Lambert, Da Silva’s character may be the most interesting to watch. Smug and self-assured, Parkson is in full control until he begins to realize his criminal world is in danger of falling apart. (Watch for Lynn Whitney in a brief, but important role as Amboy’s wife, who makes a fateful decision that changes everything.) As the ending approaches, we want punishment for the guilty and justice for the ordinary people caught up in trying to make a better life for themselves. Will they win out? Watch the movie and see. It’s a stunner.
Next time: a non-American, non-British noir that features a cop losing his gun
DVD Beaver, Talk Film Society, Rare Film