Border Incident (1949): Film Noir Meets Docudrama

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It's a story about the ruthlessness of the migrant-worker trade between Mexico and California's great agricultural valleys, and it remains as topical today as it was in if not more so. Teaming up to close down the human pipeline are Mexican agent Ricardo Montalban and American George Murphy, who perilously go undercover. The trail leads them to a brutal rancher Howard DaSilva with a cadre of murderous henchmen, who brokers the deals.

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As in T-Men, one of the agents is killed, by means of a terrifying piece of farm machinery, as his partner watches in silence lest he give himself away. When the braceros as the laborers are called grow inconvenient, they are "disappeared" into a quicksand mire known as the Canyon of Death; the terminally gruff Charles McGraw emits a girlish shriek as he topples in. Border Incident is hard-edged and unsentimental, and probably a fairly accurate, if lurid, indictment of the traffic in south-of-the-border human labor, circa midcentury. One can only hope that conditions have improved since them; movies, plainly, have not.

At the outset here, I have to ask, Who cares if this is a film noir or not? If not, does it detract from it? If it is, does that enhance it as a work of art? Of course it doesn't, the debate is arbitrary and nonsensical. It makes no difference. Film noir was not a concept until the 's anyway, so the discussion is not only irrelevant, it is decidedly un-academic. First and foremost, 'Border Incident' is a miraculously involving, dynamic piece of cinema. The voice-overs in the beginning and the one at the end have dated really badly with their flag-waving patriotism and faux-documentary style, but the 75 minutes in the middle are riveting.

Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy are detectives, respectively Mexican and American, with a mission to protect the Mexican braceros, farm workers, who are smuggled over the border and robbed, murdered and dropped in the quicksand, when they come back with money in their pockets. They infiltrate themselves into the the band of cutthroats to stop the trafficking.

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The theme is contemporary to us, to say the least. And the way the story is told is relentless, stylish and urgent.


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It is brilliantly shot, wonderfully lit and edited like no-one's business. And it is tough as nails, there is a gruesome scene involving some farm machinery I will not go into details, but you might want to put your kids to bed in time. A truly great movie, pure cinema. And call it what you want, for all I care. Spikeopath 3 May Higgins from the George Zuckerman story. Music is by Andre Previn and cinematography by John Alton. The great Anthony Mann creates what is the perfect crossover movie that blends film noir style with western shadings. We are probing into immigration issues, human smuggling and the abuse of such, Mann and his writers daring to portray the human suffering of farm workers from Mexico, lured in as slave labour, only to then be abused and used and much worse Having the legendary Alton on photography duties aids the downbeat thematics considerably, whilst also deftly averting attention from what is a pretty bog standard script, the low budgets never a problem where Mann and Alton were concerned.

In fact, in noirville they worked it to their advantage with some striking lighting techniques and camera movements. The pic is often vicious, sadistic even, landing violent scenes in the conscious that refuse to move until it's all over and the screen goes blank. Suspense is never far away in Border Incident, with a mostly on form cast George Murphy is uneven as McGraw does nasty brilliantly bringing the material to life as the dream team cloak it all in pictorial assertiveness.

Not in the same league as Raw Deal, but highly recommended for reasons already stated. With the death of Ricardo Montalban still fresh from a few weeks ago, I thought I'd check from my local library a DVD of one of his more dramatically compelling movies he made for his contracted studio, M-G-M. Directed by Anthony Mann just before his legendary streak of James Stewart westerns in the following decade, Border Incident has a sort of western feel as it tells the story of a couple of agents, one U. Both Montalban and George Murphy-who's usually a song-and-dance man-are very compelling in their straight roles.

And James Mitchell brings his own charm as one of the migrant workers Montalban tries to help. There's also a naturalistic documentary feel in the beginning and end that make this somewhat realistic for the era which is also achieved by rare uses of the music score throughout. If you've only known Mr. The Wrath of Khan, you'll probably be wonderfully surprised by his heroic role here. With that, I highly recommend Border Incident. When several illegal Mexican workers are murdered at the border of Mexico and United States by a gang of Coyotes, the Mexican and American federal agents Pablo Rodriguez Ricardo Montalban and Jack Bearnes George Murphy are assigned to work infiltrated in the group of Mexican farm workers that are waiting for a chance to work in southern California.

Pablo poses of bracero while Jack poses of a dealer of permits to work in the United State to discover the leaders that exploit the laborers. But soon they are in danger and do not have means to communicate with their contacts. What will happen to Jack and Pablo? This illegal crossing of the border followed by the exploitation of the laborers make the fortune of the rancher Parkson in the story.

The scene with Jack Bearnes on the field is impressive even in the present days. My vote is seven. Socially and artistically important--and stunning incredible filming!!! Border Incident This is an amazing movie. There are moments when it feels a little forced, or once or twice a little politicized, but the rest of the time this is as good as post-war movies get and I'm a complete devotee of this period.


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  • John Alton's photography is worth seeing alone, even without the sound it's so good, not that you would want to avoid the fantastic score by Andre Previn. And the direction by Anthony Mann at the peak of his intensity is sharp and beautifully controlled. The story is largely broken into two parts, though even these two get complicated, so you have to pay attention. Action moves from Mexican to the American side back and forth, following an American agent and a Mexican one played by the handsome Ricardo Montalban , both undercover.

    They cross paths more than once, but largely their stories are independent. Eventually there is a huge and exciting confrontation in the Valley of Death with a thick and rather convincing quicksand pool at the bottom. It becomes something like a Western shootout at this point, something Mann became an expert at, but the movie as a whole has a unique feel to it, neither Western nor noir.

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    Yes, it involves crime, guns, deception, and lots of night stuff terrific is an understatement , but the underlying tone is to undo a crime syndicate on the border, and to root for the two heroes who are working for a cause a very un-noir thing to do. A terrific full review of the movie is at bighousefilm. Certainly this was my initial attraction, for both Mann in all his ominous but realistic violence and Alton with his deep focus shadow photography are favorites of mine. There isn't a dull moment in this film just in visual terms.

    Border Incident - Wikipedia

    If you watch with your eyes, and see great moving camera, vivid dark night stuff, and some sudden changes of focus like when the two men are in the field at night toward the end and are suddenly up close in the camera, no cutting, just a fast running to the lens an following with the lens.

    But equally important for those who are curious about context and content beyond the art of it all is the Wikipedia entry on the Bracero program, a collaboration between the US and Mexican governments begun in the s to control legal migrant workers. The need for lots of Mexican labor was pressing when millions of US men joined the army in , and after the war there was pressure to keep the program going. In a way, this movie is pure propaganda to support its continuation, and it did get renewed time and again until which is about when Cesar Chavez and the "La Raza" movement grew huge.

    Naturally, agribusiness didn't like it--their claim was they wanted to pay Americans full wages, not Mexicans, but in truth apparently they wanted to let the illegal market expand because illegals were so cheap and required no benefits. Whatever the case, "Border Incident" helps dramatize the need for some kind of program in post-war America just to counteract the bad guys running illegals over the border, to everyone's peril.

    Speaking of which, the bad guy in charge is played to perfection by Howard Da Silva who is not Hispanic, nor Portuguese, but Jewish American from Ohio. His whole cadre of greedy ranchers in the desert is convincing and a thrill, cinematically. There is only a glimpse of a female in the whole movie, and yet there is tenderness at times, especially among the braceros themselves. In a way there is something of the feel of "They Live by Night" here, with the layering of plots and types of people together in the dark desert, shot in the same year.

    But ultimately this is a far more masculine movie, filled with action and power plays and terrific energy. It is hard to believe that this film deals with Mexican crop workers trying to find work and happiness in America and is the same situation that has escalated into a huge problem in the year Ricardo Montalban, Pablo Rodriquez , "Dynasty,'89 TV Series, plays an undercover Immagration Officer who tires to find out who is taking advantage of Mexican people by taking their money for entrance into the U.

    George Murphy, Jack Bearnes , "Battleground",'49 works as an agent along with Pablo and gives an outstanding supporting role. By the way, George Murphy became a U. Senator from California in real life. Great film about problems we are facing today in the United States. This depiction of illegal border activity really illustrates the difference between what we thought was a serious problem in and what we know now is a much more serious problem. There is no mention of drugs or terrorism.

    The focus of this movie is the illegal practice of bringing in undocumented peasants from Mexico to work the farms and ranches of the Southwest. It tries very hard to show the brutality, greed, and complete absence of any human compassion on the part of the bad guys,seen in perspective today, it seems almost benign. We know now the bottomless depths these vermin will sink to in order to make a buck.

    We know that life today is worth less than it was then.


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    • Still, I think this is a worthwhile picture. While watching this movie I was reminded again what a likable character George Murphy was. He plays the INS agent investigating this smuggling ring along with his Mexican counterpart played by Ricardo Montalban. They work well together - both in character and personally.

      A good cast and a tense, suspense filled plot make this an enjoyable experience. My one major criticism is this mutual ass kissing we see between the "efficient" US and "incorruptable" Mexican federal cops. I may be wrong but I can't believe we ever have, or ever will enjoy that kind of cooperation. Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, James Mitchell, and Charles McGraw star in this story about Mexicans who cross the border to California legally and some illegally to work and support their family back in Mexico.

      border incident

      But, going back to Mexico, they are killed for their meager pay. In doing this, these certain "businessmen" can then get more Mexicans to come and work for them. It's all a racket, where these "businessman" make all the profits, until federal agents of America and Mexico are planted on the inside, who are George Murphy and Ricardo Montalban. George Murphy was mainly a song-and-dance guy in musical comedies of the s and s, but branched out to do other genres with this film, and I may never see him the same way again.

      Not so much because he was in it, but because of what happens. James Mitchell, who found fame later as "All My Children"'s Palmer Cortlandt, is on hand as a Mexican trying to find work to support his family. The film wraps up with unrelenting and uncompromising violence that does not talk down to its mature viewers. Little children, I should think, should not see this. For good actors in a solid picture directed by Anthony Mann, it's a Border Incident on the bill.

      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      From , it's an atmospheric noir, probably a B movie, about the immigration department sending two people in undercover Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy to expose an illegal immigration operation. The ranchers bring them in, and after the season, they're left to their own devices. Montalban plays Pablo Rodriguez, who poses as a brazero farm worker who pays 70 pesos to cross the border illegally. He befriends Juan Garcia James Mitchell , a real brazero he meets while waiting for his named to be called for a work permit. Discouraged, Garcia decides to go illegally as well, despite having a wife and children and knowing the dangers.

      Murphy goes undercover as an ex-con who has work permits to sell. Pablo and Juan end up on the Parkson ranch. Parkson Howard da Silva is a ruthless man, and he couldn't care less about the immigrants. This is a violent film that demonstrates the exploitation of Mexicans and illustrates the problems that still exist today. Young and very handsome, Ricardo Montalban makes a convincing Pablo, a brave and determined man. Murphy stretches his song and dance man range as Jack. More than any of Mann's movies, this is a nightmare vision, which says a lot considering his 's tour of subterranean America.

      Of course, there are the mandatory sops to convention-- the usual triumphant authorities in the usual high-key lighting with the usual handshakes all around. In fact, the rotary plow scene may be the most unrelenting and excruciatingly violent episode of the entire decade. On the surface, the movie's about migrant farm workers. But that's really just a chance for Mann to bring forth his highly personal view of a violence-strewn world. In fact, his noirs amount to an ongoing struggle between artistic vision, on one hand, and societal convention, on the other.

      Though good is predictably rewarded and evil punished, he again writhes expressively against the artificial limits that stand in his way. Note how the movie sets the stage-- beginning not with a snippet of normal life, but with a horrendous crime. The supporting cast alone is a pantheon of noir icons, including Charles McGraw, Jack Lambert, Howard deSilva, and the under-rated Arnold Moss whose rolling eyes and demonic leer can make you doubt the course of evolution.

      And where did they get the palm-checking weight-lifter of a hag whose dubious version of the weaker sex belongs somewhere in the defensive line of the Chicago Bears. Some nice little surprises along the way-- a messenger who wisely goes by motorcycle, and a "good-samaritan" housewife with unexpected connections. Too bad that Hollywood could never figure out how real foreign peasants speak. Here they come up with the usual pseudo-poetic tropes like, "I was praying, my husband, to the same sainted Guadalupe that you would not go".

      Then too, I'm curious about an achingly dry desert with a swamp in the middle. Oh well, it's probably better that screenwriters don't have to take courses in geology since these subliminal swamp scenes with flashing knives and disappearing bodies would likely frighten Dr. Anyway, there's enough tension and suspense in these 90 minutes to send a viewer reaching for the heart medicine, and maybe even ponder the provenance of those peas and carrots on the nightly dinner plate. Too bad, Mann's assigned shift to Westerns began soon after this. It helped spell noir's inevitable decline in the face of a mounting Cold War and anything smacking of social criticism.

      That move may have amounted to Jimmy Stewart's big gain, but it ended in noir's big loss. Border Incident-Superb crime procedural directed by Anthony Mann. Starring Ricardo Montalban as a Mexican immigration official that poses as an illegal immigrant to try and stop the smuggling of human beings. This is the third movie I have seen dealing with this topic - and the best depiction. Mann's cinematographer John Alton does an excellent job filming this shadow world- using extreme closeups,light and shadow and sound design to craft a tense thriller on the fringes of America.

      Worth seeking out - great performances by the bad guys-Howard Silva as the overconfident boss and Charles McGraw as the annoyed second in charge. Sure it has some dated references and stereotypes-but it is still a relevant and engrossing movie. AaronCapenBanner 12 November Anthony Mann directed this still-timely drama that stars Ricardo Montalban as Mexican agent Pablo Rodriguez, who teams up with American agent Jack Bearnes played by George Murphy to tackle the problem of illegal Mexican Immigrant smuggling into California, which has seen many of them mysteriously murdered.

      Pablo goes undercover from the inside as an immigrant, while Jack investigates from the outside. The case will prove quite dangerous, more than either man realized Fine drama with solid acting and direction, and an incisive script that wouldn't need much changing to work today, sadly.

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      Those believing that the illegal immigration into the United States is a new issue only need to watch this movie to refute that belief. This movie dramatizes the problem of illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico. This movie candidly those economic and social factors which contribute to the problem and why some choose to circumvent the law in order to sneak into the United States.

      Those who do sneak in of course do so at great risk, yet for some the risks are worth it because of the desperate need to make money.