Thursday, February 18, 2016


In the Imperial Valley of Southern California, Mexican migrant workers (called braceros) are in demand during harvest season, but the process of getting legally cleared for work is lengthy and some workers pay to be smuggled over the border. Tragically, the smugglers sometimes unload groups of braceroes near a canyon, then rob and kill them. An American customs agent (George Murphy) and a Mexican investigator (Ricardo Montalban) join forces to flush out the smugglers. Montalban poses as a bracero and befriends James Mitchell, a real bracero, to find the smugglers and get across the border, while Murphy poses as a wanted American criminal who wants to join forces with the smuggler, Howard Da Silva. But the best laid plans often go astray as they do here, and when Murphy is exposed, both of their lives are in danger.

This is labeled film noir mostly because it was directed by Anthony Mann (T-MEN, RAW DEAL) and because the cinematography (by John Alton) is full of deep shadows, though most of it was shot not in the city but the desert and there is no real femme fatale—excepting one deceitful woman, a minor character though crucial to the plot. To me it feels more like a crime film, and a surprisingly brutal one for the time. There's a realistic scene of torture, and the death of one character in an open field, run over by a plow, is startling and may have influenced a similar scene in the Coen Brothers' BLOOD SIMPLE. The movie opens well, with a scene of unlucky braceros being attacked at night, then takes a turn toward the Dragnet-like documentary style police procedural and soon the film bogs down a bit as the plot machinations get set up. But the last half-hour sets things right again. Performances are solid, with the honors going to bad guy Da Silva and his sadistic right-hand man Charles McGraw. Also with familiar supporting actors Sig Ruman as a German barkeep who is involved with the smugglers and John Ridgely as a U.S. agent. If you can stick with it through the slow middle section, you'll be rewarded with a strong climax. (Pictured are Da Silva, McGraw and Montalban) [TCM]

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