A New York City detective, traveling by train between New York and Baltimore, tries to foil an on-board plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln before he reaches Baltimore to give a major pre-Inauguration speech in 1861.
To penetrate a gang exploiting illegal Mexican farmworkers smuggled into California (and leaving no live witnesses), Mexican federal agent Pablo Rodriguez poses as an ignorant bracero, while his American counterpart Jack Bearnes works from outside. Soon, both are in deadly danger from the ringleader, sinister rancher Owen Parkson, and find night on the farm to be full of shadowy film-noir menace...Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Near movie's end, Pablo Rodriguez (Montalban) is almost fully submerged in quicksand. However, immediately upon being pulled out, he looks like he's had a shower; the quicksand that had been on his face and hair is completely gone. See more »
Socially and artistically important--and stunning incredible filming!!!
Border Incident (1949)
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). 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. 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.com (click on reviews), in particular going into the director and cinematographer, and the overall mood of the film. 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. 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). It's really masterful.
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 1940s to control legal migrant workers. The need for lots of Mexican labor was pressing when millions of US men joined the army in 1942, 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 1964 (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.
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