BORDER INCIDENT (director: Anthony Mann; screenwriters: from a story by John C. Higgins/George Zuckerman/Mr. Higgins; cinematographer: John Alton; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: Andre Previn; cast: Ricardo Montalban (Pablo Rodriguez), George Murphy (Jack Bearnes), Howard Da Silva (Owen Parkson), James Mitchell (Juan Garcia), Charles McGraw (Jeff Amboy), Arthur Hunnicutt (Clayton Nordell), Sig Ruman (Hugo Wolfgang Ulrich), Teresa Celli (Maria Garcia), Arnold Moss (Zopilote), Alfonso Bedoya (Chuchillo); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nicholas Nayfack; MGM; 1949)
“A routine crime melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Border Incident is a routine crime melodrama that is helped by the earnest way it’s presented. Anthony Mann (“Desperate”/”Side Street”) directs from a story by John C. Higgins. It was modeled on the semidocumentary style Mann used in T-Men. The film is uplifted from its ordinariness by the use of deep focus compositions and the highlighting of the shadowy agricultural landscape of southern California by John Alton’s b/w photography, who also worked on T-Men. The success of Mann and Alton’s collaboration making pics for Eagle-Lion earned them the chance to work for MGM.

Mexican and American federal agents team up to go after a gang exploiting illegal farm workers (braceros) smuggled into southern California and various other parts of the southwest. U.S. agent Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) and Mexican agent Pablo Rodriguez go undercover.

Bearnes poses as a wanted criminal in the U.S. who has stolen immigrant work permits that crooked American rancher Owen Parkson (Howard Da Silva) needs for his smuggling operation. Parkson agrees to pay Bearnes some $4,000 for 400 permits. The brave agent tries to keep contact with his department, as Parkson’s gang keep him secluded at the ranch’s water tower. Rodriguez, in the meantime, has posed as a bracero, and has infiltrated how the Mexican gang delivers the illegals to Parkson. Both Bearnes and Rodriguez end up at Parkson’s ranch, where they each witness how cruelly the illegals are treated by ranch foreman Jeff Amboy (Charles McGraw) and the smugglers’ mastermind Parkson.

One of the agents will die in a grisly manner when the smugglers run him over with a plow. The tension builds to the concluding scene, as the braceros must fight for their life against the smugglers when taken to a quicksand swamp to be eliminated because they witnessed a murder.

The film makes a pro-Civil Rights statement by depicting the Mexicans and Americans as equals, whether as crooks or law officers. Though the film was effectively directed, the material was too familiar to offer any surprises.

REVIEWED ON 10/19/2004 GRADE: C+