1949 / 95 min / b/w
Dir. Anthony Mann / Scr. John C. Higgins / Cine. John Alton
Cast: Howard Da Silva, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy
Streaming access courtesy of Swank
Attendees can stream Border Incident for free over two days as part of the Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival. The viewing window for this film begins Thursday, March 11 at 12am ET and ends Saturday, March 13 at 12am ET. Click “Tickets” to register and receive a confirmation email, which will include the link and password to the film. You will receive a reminder email when the film's streaming window begins.
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Early in his tenure as MGM’s head of production, Dore Schary bought the screenplay for Border Incident in an effort to produce more of the “social problem” films that had made his reputation at RKO. The subject matter of Border Incident was indeed ripped from the headlines. Early in 1948, the Mexican and US governments had agreed to suspend the guest worker program in Texas because of serious abuses. Under pressure from agribusiness, however, American officials violated that agreement in October by allowing thousands of undocumented workers to enter into El Paso to help with the harvest. The “El Paso Incident” thus compromised the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” immigration and, in the process, provided major inspiration for John Higgins’ script.
Set on the California border, the film marks an obvious midpoint in director Anthony Mann’s transition from police procedural noirs like T-Men and He Walked by Night (both 1948) to the westerns that he made in the 1950s. In fact, Border Incident is a thinly veiled remake of T-Men, bringing together the same team of Mann, screenwriter Higgins, and cinematographer John Alton. Just as T-Men focused on a pair of government treasury agents going undercover to foil a gang of counterfeiters, so Border Incident follows a pair of INS operatives (Murphy and Montalban) who investigate a human smuggling ring. But unlike the earlier film, whose protagonists are all either on the side of the law or against it, Border Incident applies this framework to the plight of subjects who exist in the law’s twilight. In the words of one of the film’s characters: “We’re here against the law, so the law can’t help us.”