Friday, May 9, 2014

No, not the Madonna song

Some months back, or maybe it was a year or two or more, I had the chance to watch a TCM airing of Borderline. The fact that I don't even have a vague idea of how far ago it was probably says something not so good about the quality of the movie (and it will certainly say something bout the quality of this post). But, the movie is on again tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM, so you've got a chance to see it and judge for yourself.

Claire Trevor plays Madeleine, a lady police officer in the LAPD. She's been tapped for special duty, which is to go undercover to help bring down a drug smuggler. However, that smuggler's operations go into Mexico, which is why this is special duty. Madeleine is being asked to play a nightclub girl in one of those little Mexican joints to try to get better acquainted with Richie (Raymond Burr), who runs the whole shebang. So she heads to Mexico and, while she can't quite get close to Richie at first, she gets to one of his underlings, which is a good place to start. At least until Richie breaks in on her snooping around the underling's room. That might look bad for her, but suddenly, there's a complication: in barges Johnny (Fred MacMurray). He's working for another drug smuggling operation, and gets Madeleine away from Richie.

This is where the story really begins to get complicated. Johnny is actually not working for that other smuggler. He, too, has gone undercover, but he's a federal narcotics officer. And the wonderfully competent government has totally failed to co-ordinate operations among various police departments, to the point that when Johnny takes Madeleine away from Richie's place, he has no idea that she's really working with the police. Madeleine, for her part, understandably has no idea that Johnny is working for the feds, not having been told by her superior officers. And it's also completely understandable that neither of them should tell each other of their true identities, since each of them has perfectly good reason to believe the other one is part of the criminal organization.

It's a good premise, but one that never lives up to its promise. I'm not quite certain why. There are some dark elements to the movie as well as some opportunity for humor, and Fred MacMurray was good at playing in both genres. Claire Trevor could also certainly play hard-boiled dames, which is something she's good at doing, too. Raymond Burr was also in his element here, as he played a whole bunch of heavies before taking on the role of Perry Mason on TV. And yet, the whole movie comes across as not quite sure what it's trying to do, being a bit of a slog at times, rather than a simply entertaining ride. Borderline isn't terrible, mind you; it's just not nearly as good as it could be. See it once, and then probably forget it.

Borderline has apparently received several releases to DVD, at least according to Amazon. I'm not certain whether any of them are still in print, though.

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