Border Incident was a pleasant surprise in the sense that it was perhaps the first time I had seen an Old Hollywood movie about the lives of Latinos, starring a Latino actor. I know this is far from the first classic film to focus on people of color, but it's nice to know that they exist, and they were made.
It was especially nice to see Ricardo Montalban in a leading role while he was still a young man. I kind of recognized him when he first appeared, but I wasn't sure until he spoke and I heard that marvelous voice of his. He's good here, in a role where he's a person and not a type.
This is yet another film from Anthony Mann, a director I've spent a fair amount of this year learning about, little by little. (I didn't plan that, either; it just sort of happened.) I found it to be not too far removed from his earlier movie T-Men in terms of general structure: it has the feel of a procedural, taken from actual events.
In Border, the feds team up with their counterparts in Mexico to investigate the exploitation by a local gang of illegal Mexican workers sneaking into California. The score is minimal and non-intrusive; there were places where I expected to hear background music and there wasn't, and I admit, that caused me to doze off very briefly. (I blame my cold.) Good use of location shots, interesting characters, and a nice climax - plus, it was a hoot to see Sig Ruman, one of my favorite character actors, in a small role as a Mexican heavy, even if I kept expecting to see Greta Garbo or Carole Lombard to pop up somewhere.
The term used to describe the Mexican laborers in Border is braceros. The Bracero Program was an arrangement between the US and Mexico in 1942 that allowed millions of Mexicans to work in the States on mostly agricultural temp jobs. It began out of a concern that World War 2 might mean a shortage in jobs like these, which included things like thinning sugar beets, picking vegetables, and weeding and picking cotton.
The program ended in 1964 after growing criticism that Mexicans were being exploited and Americans were losing jobs. Indeed, in Border, we see moments such as braceros being told their wages would be one price and it turns out to be much less. In real life, there were a number of bracero strikes for fairer wages. As recently as 2010, the Smithsonian in Washington had an exhibition commemorating the Bracero Program that toured the country.