Clandestine migration is anything but incidental in ‘Border Incident’
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by John C. Higgins
The Mexico-United States border has long been the subject of controversy when discussing the arrival of those described as ‘illegal aliens,’ desperate individuals from Mexico who traverse the border without proper permission in the hopes of finding some work and money to send back to their families, while others hold to grander notions of completely starting anew. Whatever their reasons, those who venture illegally into the United States put themselves at risk, not merely of the border patrol forces, but also of the employers who willfully take advantage of their fragile state. In Border Incident, workers who slaved away in the agriculture fields in Imperial Valley are slaughtered as they traverse shadowy, rocky valleys at night on their journeys back to Mexico. In a joint effort to cease the abuse and to put the ‘law’ back into ‘law and order’ Mexican agent Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) and American agent Jack Bearns (George Murphy) are sent to infiltrate the most notorious of the gangs exploiting the desperate workers. Through an dark and dangerous journey, they eventually come face to face with the puppet master, Owen Parkson (Howard Da Silva), whose top dogs practically relish in the hardships they poor onto their slaves.
Anthony Mann, a smart storyteller capable of handling all sorts of different film genres, creates a really solid, appropriately violent film that fits in nicely within noir. When someone says ‘film noir’, the thoughts and images this reviewer’s mind immediately conjure up are those of shadows and light playing off eerily against one another and creating an arena in which sad, tough and unhappy characters try to escape said shadows and re-discover comfort in the light. What the viewer is therefore left with is a filmic experience which is dual layered, one visual and the other being story-driven. Border Incident, although produced for a modest budget, delivers on both of those fronts in some exciting and memorable ways. No film is perfect, and Anthony Mann’s picture does suffer from some unfortunate decisions, but on the whole the film leaves the viewer with both a sense of satisfaction in the quality of the movie and one of frustration as to how things turned out for some of the protagonists, which is equally important in a film of this kind.