Watching this I could not help thinking of the title, Borderline. That just about describes it. It’s from 1950 by Universal International. It’s one of those crime drama comedies where a bunch of people get killed, and everybody has a good laugh. Here’s how it starts.
Los Angeles Police Department Officer Madeleine Haley (Claire Trevor) is eager to get in on a caper to crack a ring that’s smuggling dope from Mexico. Sound familiar. Yes, nothing much has changed in 65 years, except the gangsters. Madeleine goes undercover as Gladys LaRue, a cheap floozy because… because dope smuggler Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr) likes ’em that way.
At a Mexican nightclub, Madeleine (AKA Gladys) sings and dances in the chorus, and also tries to catch the eye of Pete, who is all business. A nightclub singer is belting out a song with a refrain that includes “borderline.” Hint: that’s the name of the movie.
Gladys does get the attention of Pete’s errand boy and gets him drunk, enabling her to penetrate Pete’s private digs. With the sidekick out drunk, Madeleine whips out her spy camera and begins photographing evidence.
Enter Pete. Enter Madeleine from the back bedroom, turning her charm on Pete. Enter rival gangster Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray) and his sidekick, here to put the squeeze on Pete. A threat of torture and the errand boy gives up the location of the drug shipment. There is s shootout. Johnny’s sidekick gets killed. Madeleine fires her pistol inside her purse and takes out Pete’s gun hand. Macklin, AKA Federal Agent Johnny McEvoy, and Madeleine exit post haste.
Madeleine comes to in a warehouse, where Johnny has gathered the drug shipment. That is, after bopping Madeleine on the jaw, which scene never appears in the movie. This one has problems with continuity.
Adventures begin, with Johnny, Madeleine, and Johnny’s driver heading across country for the United States Border at Tijuana. Adventures multiply. Pete and his gang pursue and catch up with them along the road. There is yet another shootout. More get killed, including Johnny’s driver and one of Pete’s henchmen.
The chase turns comical, with neither Johnny nor Madeleine knowing the other is fuzz. A hired airplane is forced to land on a Mexican beach, where Johnny and Madeleine spend a cozy night together. A bond is forming.
The bond is almost broken at the U.S. border. By now Pete has been arrested by the Mexican Federales, and Johnny offers Madeleine up for arrest by the border agents. Madeleine’s LAPD boss is there and straightens things out. There are still sore feelings between the two, but they continue the plan to bust the American ringleader, Harvey Gumbin (Roy Roberts).
All comes to a head when Johnny goes to Gumbin’s headquarters and gets caught up in the police assault.
There is shooting and tear gas, and Johnny and Gumbin engage in fisticuffs. Johnny wins the bout, barely, and gets big smacks from Madeleine. Things are looking up for the feisty pair.
Yes, the plot is totally absurd. It’s a love comedy with gangsters and people speaking Spanish and English and trading shots and getting killed. There is 19th century Mexico commingling with 20th century Mexico with comical Mexicans and dead serious Mexicans.
The modern viewer is acquainted with the real world of drug smuggling and will find it ridiculous that a top line gangster like Johnny Macklin is going to mule a few pounds of smack across the border. This is low-grade entertainment, but it is fun to watch the interplay between Johnny and Madeleine, falling for each other, all the while thinking the other is some sort of a scumbag.
The year before this came out Claire Trevor earned an Academy Award for her role as boozing floozy Gaye Dawn in Key Largo. She was to earn another nomination for The High and the Mighty four years later. MacMurray shot to fame in 1944 in Double Indemnity. He is best known to later audiences as an unmarried father in My Three Sons, which ran for 380 episodes from 1960 to 1972. Raymond Burr was to continue his wicked ways, murdering his wife four years later in Rear Window. Some time after that He went straight, defending (most times) innocent clients as Perry Mason from 1957 to 1966 and hunting down crooks as San Francisco Police consultant Robert T. Ironside in the Ironside series, which ran from 1967 to 1975.