Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Latino Images in Film ~ Border Incident (1949)

Border Incident (1949) is a gripping noir about the illegal smuggling of braceros (Mexican workers) into the US. Ricardo Montalban stars as Pablo Rodriguez, a Mexican undercover agent who is posing as a paisano/bracero in order to infiltrate a band of devious smugglers. Pablo befriends bracero Juan Garcia (James Mitchell) and the two form a close bond. As Pablo and Juan get smuggled across the border, American agent Jack Bearnes (George Murphy) who is posing as a dealer in forged immigration papers. However, the network of bandits are violent and determined to get their way and things get to get complicated and ugly really quickly.

I have to say, this was a very uncomfortable film to watch. It's very violent, not in terms of gore but with torture and murder. Plus there is also a pit of death where the illegal braceros are thrown in to die once they are no longer needed (yikes!). Some folks don't think it's technically a noir but it's got all the elements of a noir just in an atypical setting. This films merits I think lie in the performances of Ricardo Montalban and James Mitchell. They are our heroes and we root for them all the way.

You mean, you can make a film about Latinos with Latino actors?! No!!! The Mexican characters in this film are mostly played by Latinos, which makes a welcome change from Caucasian actors with olive complexions (or extra make-up). The only exception is James Mitchell, who I don't think is actually Hispanic but I could be wrong. The theme of illegal immigration and the exploitation of Mexican workers makes this film incredibly relevant today. The situations in the story are disturbingly real and I think this is a good movie for sparking some political discussions.

Level of Brown Face: 1 out of 5 Shades.

TCM Latino Images in Film Line-Up for Tuesday May 7th

Bordertown (1935)
Border Incident (1949)
Right Cross (1950)
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)
Revenue Agent (1950)


  1. Raquelle, It's interesting when obviously Caucasian actors are playing ethnic roles. Myrna Loy started her career with numerous roles as a mysterious asian.

    Another bizarre example is Warner Oland's Charlie Chan. Oland was Swedish, originating from Östersund a town in the north, about as far from China you can get.

    Then of course there is El Brendel who had a Latino sounding name but was a Philadephia born German who always playd Swedish...

  2. Border Incident is a really tough-minded film that has an almost PSYCHO-like kick when a person you've assumed to be the main character ceases to be. It was hard for Anthony Mann to go wrong at this point in his career.

    As for Warner Oland, people following TCM last night would have seen one of his earlier Asiatic outings in the silent Old San Francisco. I don't know when he started taking Asian parts, but I recall reading that he once justified it to Keye Luke by claiming partial Mongolian ancestry.

  3. I haven't seen this film but it sounds great. I'm glad that Latino actors were used in the film too. I find it distracting when I see white actors playing different ethnic characters.

  4. You're so right when you say this film is very uncomfortable. The first time I watched it, I was squirming in my seat through several scenes, especially the one near the end. It is a great film, though. It's a great treat to see Ricardo Montalban working with a meaty role. He does a great job.

    I just realised that I actually have this film on DVD because it was included in the Film Noir Vol. 3 collection. It isn't technically a noir, and probably deserves to be showcased in a special Latino collection, but it does have many elements of noir films.

    I'm sorry for being such an absent blog friend lately. I've been working through my finals (last project due tommorrow - yay!) and haven't had much time to visit everyone's blogs. It's going to get better next week, though!

  5. What a coincidence, its playing right this minute on Turner Classic Movies.

    I haven't read what everyone has had to say about it but the cinematography is really terrific.

  6. I have to admit that I have always been puzzled as to why non-Hispanic actors were cast in Hispanic parts. I cannot believe that there was a shortage of Hispanic actors in Hollywood at any point in movie history. I've often pondered if there wasn't a bit of racism at work there.


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