Director Anthony Mann had the noir touch. It was evident in his early films such as Strangers in the Night, Two O'Clock Courage and The Great Flamarion, blossoming in the late 40s with T-Men, He Walked by Night and Side Street and highlighting his exemplary 50s westerns such as Winchester '73 and Devil's Doorway.
Border Incident, released by MGM in 1949, fits in with the cycle of procedural crime dramas popular at the time. Quickly the premise of exposing the murder and exploitation of illegal migrant farm labourers (Braceros) from Mexico is established with a daring under cover operation involving both Mexican and American agencies. Ricardo Montalban as Pablo Rodriguez will pose as a man desperate to enter the States. George Murphy (Bataan, Tom Dick and Harry) as Jack Bearns will be tracking and baiting the greedy men behind the organized crime.
1920 - 2009
TCM is presenting Border Incident as part of a birthday salute to Ricardo Montalban on the occasion of his late November birthdate. Born in Mexico, Montalban moved to Los Angeles to live with an older brother while in his teens and began a stage career as he entered his 20s. Returning to Mexico he found work in films there which brought him to the attention of MGM who touted him as a "latin lover" with his debut in the Technicolor Fiesta in 1947. Somewhat pigeon-holed in roles by the studio, he also had roles which gave him the opportunity to display his versatility in films such as Battleground, Across the Wide Missouri, Sayonara and Mystery Street. Away from the studio, Mr. Montalban enjoyed a strong stage career which included a Tony nomination for Jamaica in 1957 along with assisting in the founding of Nosotros a theatre company with the goal of encouraging the talents of Latin performers and artists. In his 70 year career, Ricardo Montalban enjoyed the affection of generations of fans. My daughter first discovered him as "the cool guy" doing the voice of Senor Senior Sr. in Kim Possible and then she met Khan in Star Trek! Mr. Montalban's only acting award was a 1978 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Drama Series as Satangkai in How the West Was Won. His 1970 Gunsmoke episode Chato was introduced by James Arness on a DVD release as "his all-time favourite episode". Off screen, Ricardo Montalban's 63 year marriage to Georgiana Young is inspirational.
Arnold Moss, Arthur Hunnicutt
Along with our exemplary leads, Border Incident is chock full of outstanding characterizations. In Mexico we have James Mitchell (Stars in My Crown, TVs All My Children) as a sympathetic bracero and Alfonso Bedoya (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Big Country) as a mean-spirited thug. Sig Ruman (Stalag 17, Ninotchka) is the ruthless leader of the pipline of human misery. Stealing every scene he is given is Arnold Moss (Reign of Terror, Gambit) as an ambitious criminal too smart for his own good.
North of the border Howard Da Silva (They Live by Night, 1776) is the pretentious and avaricious gang boss. He has no trouble keeping underlings Arthur Hunnicutt (El Dorado) and Jack Lambert (Bend of the River) in tow. Can the same be said for second-in-command Charles McGraw (The Narrow Margin, Armored Car Robbery)?
While most of the film plays without music, Andre Previn's insistent, pulsating score at the opening prepares the audience for the non-stop action to commence. The dirge-like finale increases the tension of the events. The jazzy score is an interesting contrast to Previn's other 1949 releases, Challenge to Lassie and The Secret Garden.
George Murphy, Charles McGraw, Howard Da Silva
Anthony Mann's vision and cinematographer John Alton's artistry combined on six motion pictures, T-Men, Raw Deal, He Walked by Night, Reign of Terror, Devil's Doorway and Border Incident. In Border Incident most of the action occurs clandestinely at night. The beauty of the images in glorious black and white give the people and the surroundings of the heinous actions a poetic quality that highlights both the humanity and depravity on display.
MGM was entering an era under Dore Schary where films had something to say about the world, as well as entertain. Border Incident fits that profile as well as providing an opportunity for some of the studio's brightest lights to shine.
TCM is screening Border Incident on Monday, November 25th at 12:00 pm.