Border Incident (Anthony Mann / U.S., 1949):

The preamble, from glimpses of Californiaís fenced-in Imperial Valley to the horrific knifing and dumping of immigrants, offers Anthony Mannís landscapes at their most treacherous, and may have given TomŠs Rivera the title he was looking for (Y no se lo Tragů la Tierra). A Mexican federal agent (Ricardo Montalban) and an FBI veteran (George Murphy) are the undercover investigators, left to voice the burden of Mannís infiltrators ("The name's Pigeon. Clay Pigeon") while their governments trade hands-across-the-frontier fatuities. Montalban poses as a runaway gangster to enter the bracero-smuggling ring (the headquarters is a tavern presided over by Sig Ruman, where some Madame Defarge inspects prospective workers by feeling the calluses on their palms), men are crammed horizontally inside a rolling sarcophagus of a freight truck for the journey across the border -- tougher, more tactile vignettes than anything in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Murphy, meanwhile, peddles bogus work permits in order to get into the lair of the head trafficker (Howard Da Silva), an overreaching landowner who, in anticipation of the directorís Western barons, gets a lesson in the uncertainty of power. In this tale of "murder, robbery and rescue," the border is the mirror that reflects both ways: There are twin underworld hideouts, Mexican henchmen (Arnold Moss, Alfonso Bedoya) are rhymed with Yankee wranglers (Charles MacGraw, Arthur Hunnicutt), one manís shawled Madonna is anotherís pistol-packing moll. MacGraw at one point grabs Da Silva to show him "what the dirty work looks like," Mann does the same to the audience -- Jack Lambertís contorted mug as he hangs from the window of a speeding truck is an Artaudian sight, though nothing beats the sadistic rubato of dirt-caked Murphy grimacing as a tractorís furrowing blades grind toward the camera. The finale's cathedral lighting and crossed flags can't erase the brutalities of a quicksand world suspended between garden and desert. Cinematography by John Alton. With James Mitchell, Teresa Celli, Josť Torvay, John Ridgely, and Otto Waldis. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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