Bordertown

Muni, in one of his careful ethnic portraits, plays a streetwise Mexican from the LA ghetto who graduates from night school as a lawyer after five tough years, only to be disbarred when he loses his temper and first court case - against a pretty socialite (Lindsay) charged with drunken driving - because influence and legal skills are stacked against him. Disillusioned, he heads across the border to make money, convinced that nothing else matters in the Land of Opportunity; and does so by working his way up from bouncer to partner in Pallette's Tijuana night-club, in the process becoming an object of desire to Pallette's bored wife (Davis, incandescent in a sketchy part). Misreading his lack of interest, she clears the decks by murdering her husband; then, driven insane by guilt, she tries (but fails) to frame him for the murder. Muni, now affluent, meanwhile takes up with his dream girl, the socialite from his court case, who is happy to flirt while slumming in Tijuana, but laughs him off ('You belong to a different tribe, savage') when he proposes marriage. Beautifully shot by Tony Gaudio, well acted, grippingly directed, the film makes acutely acerbic points about privilege and prejudice; but typically of Warners in its social conscience mode, settles in the end for the status quo. The Mexican decides to go 'back where I belong, with my own people', and the message is clear: had he respected the principles of apartheid, he'd have earned himself a gold star.

Release details

Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Archie Mayo
Screenwriter: Laird Doyle, Wallace Smith
Cast: Bette Davis
Soledad Jimenez
Robert Barrat
Margaret Lindsay
Eugene Pallette
Paul Muni
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