Thursday, May 7, 2009

Border Incident

As part of the Latino Images in Film series, TCM is showing Border Incident tonight at 9:45 PM ET. It's a marked change from the movies they aired this past Tuesday, and a very good one at that.

In the 1940s, as today, Mexican workers were imported to do season farm labor that white Americans either didn't want to do, or couldn't be obtained in large enough numbers to do. Although the US and Mexican governments tried to set up a regime governing the importation of labor, abuses were still rife. Jumping off from this point, Border Incident tells a story of US and Mexican agents trying to infiltrate a ring of labor-smugglers. The way to do that is to get a Mexican to pose as a wannabe farm worker, and the late Ricardo Montalbán plays that Mexican agent. However, as he's going to be doing farm work in the US, he needs to work with the US authorities who have jurisdiction, and George Murphy plays the American agent working on the outside in conjunction with Montalbán.

The operation is risky and at times harrowing, and the movie portrays this well, telling the story in a docudrama style which really fits the story. The people running this illegal ring, led by Howard Da Silva and Charles McGraw, are callous and brutal, not caring about the welfare of the people they're bringing into America. Indeed, when it looks as though the law will finally catch up to them, they have no qualms about simply abandoning the workers to whatever fate might befall them. Even worse, though, is the way they would treat any agents who try to infiltrate their organization....

I referenced He Walked By Night in one of my links above, and that's intentional: not only was it, too, a docudrama; it had the same director (Anthony Mann) and cinematographer (John Alton) as Border Incident. That cinematography puts the movie squarely in the 1940s, but the themes it portrays are still relevant today. Border Incident is a very high-quality film, which still holds up 60 years on. And for those who only remember Ricardo Montalbán as Khan or from Fantasy Island, Border Incident is a good way to see just what a talented actor he was.

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