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Government Propaganda & Progressive Social Politics Take the
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/31/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Border Incident" reunites director Anthony Mann, screenwriter John C. Higgins, and cinematographer John Alton a year and a half after they created the quintessential noir police procedural "T-Men". The story in "Border Incident" is strikingly similar to "T-Men", but the films are nearly opposite thematically. Both present "composite cases" taken from the files of law enforcement agencies, meaning that they are fiction inspired by real crimes. "Border Incident" sends two immigration officers under cover to break an exploitative illegal immigrant racket, while "T-Men" were undercover Treasury Agents. The similarities in story and structure go even farther, but where "T-Men" was a disturbing look at the moral confusion of two government agents operating in the criminal underworld, "Border Incident" is reassuring propaganda and social conscious filmmaking in the form of a thriller.
In post-War USA, many Mexican "braceros" cross the border every day to work on the farms of Imperial Valley in Southern California. Most work in the United States legally, but there is a trade in illegal Mexican labor that leaves braceros with no protection from murderous bandits and abusive employers. Disturbed by the routine murders of braceros trying to return to Mexico with their pay, the governments of the United States and Mexico cooperate in an operation to catch the unscrupulous American farmers smuggling, exploiting, and robbing illegal Mexican laborers. Mexican police officer Pablo Rodriguez (Ricardo Montalban) poses as a bracero seeking illegal entry to the U.S.. American immigration agent Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) takes the part of a fugitive trying to peddle illicit immigration permits. They both end up on the farm of Owen Parkson (Howard da Silva), a dealer in illegal labor who will stop at nothing to preserve his operation.
"Border Incident" is a slick, entertaining battle between good guys and bad guys. I've sometimes heard it classified as "film noir", but "Border Incident" couldn't be farther from a noir sensibility. It posits government as a heroic entity that combats the forces of criminality to impose a moral order and preserve the American Way. Our two government agents are morally impeccable and incorruptible. This is the opposite picture of urban America that hard-boiled fiction and film noir painted, with its roots in the 1920s-1930s when city governments and law enforcement were overtly corrupt. "Border Incident" is one of those post-War "government agency films", as commentator Dana Polan calls them. But, along with its glorified, paternalistic view of government, "Border Incident" has elements of social consciousness. It focuses the audience's attention on the plight of migrant workers. And it proposes that education is a powerful tool in combating exploitation. A well-crafted thriller that does more than its share of proselytizing.
The DVD (Warner Brothers 2006): There is a theatrical trailer (2 1/2 min) and a good audio commentary by NYU professor of cinema studies Dana Polan. Polan discusses the theme of government as an agent of order and coherence in a world disrupted by criminality, the post-WWII "government agency films", and how this film fits into post-War culture and 1940s cinema. He also talks about the respective styles of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton, as well as providing some information about the cast. The commentary is perceptive and nearly constant. 1940s film buffs will find it worthwhile. Subtitles are available for the film in English, French and Spanish."
The More Things Change...
Kurt Harding | Boerne TX | 08/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With immigration a current hot political topic and a new "bracero" program being mooted, right now is a perfect time to watch Border Incident. For though the names and the faces have changed, the problems remain largely the same, intractable as ever. What is a brutally hard-hitting film is bracketed by an almost ridiculously comical newsreel style of documentary trumpeting the politically correct 1940s "good neighbor" policy of the US toward its southern neighbors. Additionally, there is cheery commentary on the happy lot of the legally admitted seasonal worker, or "bracero" complete with scenes of smiling workers busting their backs in the fields. What is comical is that anyone ever believed this eyewash though it is perhaps just this type of film that stirred public debate and led to reforms that today have provided the farm worker with much better pay, working conditions, and legal protections. This film finds Mexican and US immigration officials cooperating to break up a ring of smugglers who sneak desperate workers unwilling to wade through the red tape of the "bracero" program into the US to work without papers at a number of farms and ranches whose owners are tied in with the smugglers. Once the workers arrive here, they are put to work for much less than promised and sent back if they complain to a certain death where bandits connected to the smugglers wait to rob and murder unsuspecting returnees. The desert setting is realistic, the corruption and violence palpable, and the evil system into which the unsuspecting mojados are trapped entirely believable. Supposedly, Border Incident was based on a true story. What makes the movie so good is that the viewer never quite knows how things will turn out. All sorts of twists and turns in the story will keep you on edge. Here also is a chance to see a young Ricardo Montalban in a challenging role. This is one heck of a movie, I highly recommend it, particularly to anyone with familiarity with border topography and interest in border issues."
Anthony Mann makes the crossing from noir to Western...
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 08/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Border Incident starts off in the typical `Your Government Working For You' fashion that makes so many noirs start at a crawl before finally getting into the story. The dialogue feels like it hasn't just been approved by every law enforcement body in America and Mexico but written by them as well. At first it looks like Anthony Mann's strong directorial style will never surface through the MGM production line sheen, but having got the advertorial exposition out of the way he seems to gradually wrest control away from the suits the further away he gets from them on location until it's definitely a Mannly film, and one that offers a direct point of transition between his noirs and his dark psychological westerns. By the time its ill-starred characters have moved from a secure world of visual order and perfectly composed balance and traversed a hostile landscape as desolate as the people-smugglers' morality to end up in one of Mann's beloved mountain/canyon shootouts, there's no doubt who is calling the shots.
Mann's trademark violence is also very much in evidence, with the film offering one truly strikingly unpleasant death for 1949 - when shooting and being brutally rifle-butted in the head doesn't finish off the victim, something even more searingly violent does the trick: dust to dust indeed. But that's very much in keeping with the characters' brutally disinterested attitude to death. People aren't just killed, they're literally swallowed by a callous and impersonal land that leaves no trace of their ever having existed. Once there's no more profit to be made from the illegals or their own cohorts, they simply disappear forever. Mann had no equal in using the landscape to define character, but here the landscape itself is not just a character but an accomplice.
A big part of the credit belongs to cinematographer John Alton, who Mann apparently insisted on taking with him when he moved from Eagle-Lion to a contract with Leo. His deep blacks, his great sense of changing perspective (an important visual motif in all of Mann's films), his intelligent use of long lenses to expand the moral and physical distance between protagonists, and one remarkable night sequence where a truck leaves an almost luminous trail of dust in its wake help elevate what could have just been a production-line procedural into something much more primal and substantial. It's not just a matter of making striking images - the director and cinematographer's complimentary visual imaginations don't simply serve the story but also establish these characters' place in the world and their shifting relationships as power and loyalty become increasingly fluid commodities.
Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy may seem unlikely leads, but they work better than expected, and there's a great cast of character players to back them up - Alfonso Bedoya, Arnold Ross (so memorable in Mann's Reign of Terror/The Black Book), Charles MacGraw, Arthur Hunnicutt and the great Sig Rumann. Quietly towering over them all is Howard Da Silva's confident and almost casual ringleader, a man who finds that control is illusory. Despite having the best (but still unshowy) dialogue, the temptations to become a stereotype are avoided in favor of a much more interesting and rounded creation - he doesn't need to act menacing because he has people to do that for him.
Like most of Mann's noirs (with the exception of the period thriller Reign of Terror/The Black Book), it's not one of the great Mann films - but it ends up a damn good one. I kinda liked it...
Warners' DVD boasts a good transfer and an excellent commentary by Dana Polan and the original theatrical trailer. "
WOW! FORGOTTEN 1949 GEM TACKLES EVEN MORE FERVENT NATIONAL T
FRED C. DOBBS | USA | 05/08/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's amazing how this little-seen 1949 gem tackled an issue which is an even more contentious national topic today. All about poor Mexicans who need work, American farmers who need them and the porous, insecure border between them. BOTH break the law---the Mexs', because of ignorance, lack of education, disinformation and desparation, cross illegally and the Americans, because of avarice and arrogance, use them. Bad apples from both parties comprise the criminals that are the target of this film. Ricardo Montalban has the rare lead here and is strikingly effective. Ruggedly handsome and fit, the talent & the tools were evident---why he didn't make it as a major star is beyond me. Either he had the worst agent of all time or Hollywood, like baseball, wasn't ready for a minority to kick butt. Montalban would be a marquee stud today. Montalban and Gerorge Murphy play Federal agents from their respective countries who attempt to infiltrate the crooked organization that is transporting , and even killing, the illegals. Howard Da Silva is awesome as the head of the nefarious gang that transports the illegals for major bucks--a wondrous performance--he turns to jelly at the end of the film when his #1 Foreman double crosses him. Some noteworthy familiar faces here especially Alfonso "I don't have to show you any stickin badges" Bedoya who was so memorable as one of the bandits in the all-time classic TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE [even the other bandit in SIERRA MADRE is thrown in here] and John Ridgely from THE BIG SLEEP. Still can't believe that Montalban's "illegal" pal 'Juan Garcia', who appeared so authentically 'Mexican', was played by a non-Mex, James Mitchell. The film is sensitive, fair, and brutally real. I was taken aghast with George Murphy's execution in this one, especially after going through the movie admiring his smarts, courage and perseverence while in the belly of the beast---stark, no-nonsense stuff here. Saw this on TV the other night---will be part of my DVD collection before the weekend is over. "
Classic movie of good Mexico-US relations
Robert Schmidt | Honolulu, HI USA | 07/25/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Well, I just watched The Border Incident with a young Ricardo Montalban. 1940ish, black and white. No explosions or sex. Good tension... you really don't know how it is going to end. Great cooperation between Mexican and US authorities in working to stop illegal immigration. US folk exploiting Mexican workers are the bad guys for a change. Watched at the Movie Museum in Honolulu, a 16 seat theater with 16 reclining chairs. Nice!"