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A Movie A Day: Quint on BORDER INCIDENT (1949)
What is cheaper than time, senor? Everybody has the same amount.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Today we follow the great Ricardo Montalban over from yesterday’s MYSTERY STREET to today’s BORDER INCIDENT. I totally flipped for yesterday’s AMAD. It’s a perfectly crafted murder mystery populated with awesome characters that would have been over the top if the actors weren’t so good in the roles. Today’s movie is a slight change of pace. It’s not nearly as fun, even if Montalban is just as charming as he was in MYSTERY STREET. BORDER INCIDENT might not be as fun or as high on the rewatchability factor, but it’s no less of a movie for it, just a different one.

This time out Montalban is once again a cop, but this time a cop from Mexico who joins forces with a US cop as the two countries work to curb illegal immigration during the harvest seasons in Baja California. At first I was thinking Lou Dobbs must have willed this movie into existence, but then it paints a much more nuanced picture of these farmers than Dobbs would have. The reason for the investigation is to stop these men from essentially paying to murder themselves. They pay a heavy fee to be ferried across the border and then are led into a form of slavery or are picked off as they recross, pockets filled with money from their labors. And this is pretty damn harsh. The movie opens with one of these scenes, as immigrant workers cross back over and are spotted by the dirty bastards who originally led them over. It’s a perfect spot, apparently. It’s easy to evade the American patrols and there’s a handy quicksand pit where the baddies can dispose of the murdered men after stripping everything of value of their persons.

Montalban works undercover as a Mexican farmer trying to figure out an in that plugs him into the underworld. At the same time the US agent, Bearnes, played by George Murphy, watches his back and shadows Montalban as he delves deeper and deeper into the dark world of human trafficking. The main tension of the flick is what you’d expect from an undercover cop movie. Montalban and Murphy both have to work to keep their covers. Montalban that of a lowly farmer looking for work and Murphy an escaped Con hiding in Mexico, pockets filled with stolen crossing cards that are worth their weight in gold to the men who run the racket. Of course, these crossing cards are all recorded and the goal is to get them into the hands of the baddies so they can track them as they distribute. That’s the plot part, but director Anthony Mann and writer John C. Higgins (ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS) smartly focus on the characters. The plot would barely cover 40 minutes and I found my favorite aspect of the movie were the relationships. There’s a moment where both undercover cops are at the same place at the same time (after both thinking the other was killed) and have to sneak around the guards to share information. Great, tense moment.

Montalban’s core relationship, though, is with a regular immigrant who doesn’t want to cross illegally, but is fed up of having waited 6 weeks trying to get his crossing card, fighting for the limited space amongst a sea of like-men. This is Juan Garcia, played by James Mitchell and he’s basically the innocent of the story. He never would have joined up with the crossing party if he hadn’t told Montalban where to go, so Montalban finds himself incredibly protective of this guy. It’s a very interesting friendship that we see develop, one predicated on deception since Montalban can not blow his cover. The whole thing culminates on a few different back-stabbings amongst the bad guys and a very well shot nighttime tussle as a truckload of farmers tangle with the heavily armed bad guys who are set up to pick them off in the canyon of death from the beginning. And yes, the quicksand makes a return appearance for a brutal hand to hand fight. Let’s just say that you don’t want to take on Ricardo Montalban in a hand to hand fight, especially when there’s a deep quicksand pit nearby. There are some surprisingly unpredictable turns this film makes, including the death of one character that I was certain would see the movie to its conclusion… and it’s a horrible death, too. Pretty shocking actually, even by today’s standards. Final Thoughts: Like I said in the intro, this is a really strong movie, but not nearly as fun as MYSTERY STREET. The photography is great, the direction is fine, the performances are solid and the pacing works for the movie, it’s just not nearly as enjoyable to me. I think the movie might have suffered a little bit following up MYSTERY STREET, but that’s how the dice fall sometimes. I’m still very glad I saw it and feel very comfortable recommending it, especially to any Montalbaniphiles out there.

Here’s what we have lined up for the next week: Tuesday, November 25th: THE TIN STAR (1957)

Wednesday, November 26th: ON THE BEACH (1959)

Thursday, November 27th: TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH (1949)

Friday, November 28th: GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (1947)

Saturday, November 29th: PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950)

Sunday, November 30th: THE HOT ROCK (1972)

Monday, December 1st: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966)

That brings us to the end of our Montalban detour, but hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in future AMADs.

See you folks tomorrow for Anthony Mann’s western THE TIN STAR starring Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins and Jason’s mama, Betsy Palmer! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 25, 2008, 2:39 a.m. CST


    by Droogie Alex


  • Nov. 25, 2008, 2:45 a.m. CST


    by The Amazing G

  • Nov. 25, 2008, 3:20 a.m. CST


    by caruso_stalker217

    Ricardo Montalban was one sexy motherfucker. I hope to one day be at least 1/16 as sexy. Happy 88th Birthday, Mr. Montalban!

  • Nov. 25, 2008, 7:34 a.m. CST

    Easilly the best of the films in the third Warners noir set

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Tense, gorgeously-photographed and well-acted.

  • Nov. 25, 2008, 12:09 p.m. CST

    I think you'll have to see this one again Quint

    by Continentalop

    It might not have been as "fun" as Mystery Street, but Border Incident is a much superior film, in plot, characters, look and direction. I am surprised you didn't have a much more rave review of the film. I mean, this might be the best of the Noir Westerns, and also of that rare sub-genre Agri-Noir (which the only other member might be Thieves Highway). <p> I am also surprised you didn't single out some of the other people who worked on it, including the director, the great Anthony Mann, director of such noir classics as T-Men, Boomerang, Side Street, He Walked By Night and latter the director of the classic Jimmy Stewart Westerns Naked Spur, The Man From Laramie, Winchester '76, and others. The man is one of the great directors of all time (just watch the Budd sequences in Kill Bill 2 to see his influence) and this is one of his best works. SPOILERS: Just look the murder scene you mentioned in your review; Mann is able to make that one of the most sit-in-your-chair-an- squirm, tension builders ever without coping out. Plus, can you get any more brutal than being run over by a tractor? <p> This was also one of his collaborations with legendary cinematographer John Alton (Raw Deal, Big Combo, the Spiritualist) and his work here really shine. Both the cinematography and mise-en-scéne are flawless, and Mann and Alton are able to great landscapes that are wide, not open, meaning that you are an open target whenever you are out in them. <p> Plus lets not forget the villains of the piece, Charles McGraw (The Narrow Margin) and Howard De Silva (The Lost Weekend), who play two really great heavies. The best part is that they are not one dimensional, and have their own plots going on against each other. <p> I am not criticizing your review, Quint, because I understand that you have a lot of other things on your plate than just fulfilling your AMAD column, so I can understand if you sometimes don’t go to in-depth on a movie. Plus I can’t criticize you for not loving Border Incident as much as I do because obviously everyone walks away looking at a movie completely different from another person. Also, I don’t know what types of external events might have hampered your enjoyment of this movie. However, I will say when you get a chance you might want to revisit this one; maybe next time you’ll find it much more powerful.

  • Nov. 25, 2008, 3:31 p.m. CST

    Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    by NeilMcCauleysBrother

    In for a treat with that one. Taylor and Dennis deserved their Oscars, but Burton gives the greatest display of screen acting I've ever seen. And that, as they say, is that.