Thursday, September 27, 2007


One of the strange things about travel South of the Border is that it can have one of two contrasting effects: either reveal the real you, stripped down in elemental conflict with destiny (no better example of this than The Wages of Fear, but see also The Treasure of the Sierra Madre); or it can be an opportunity for reinvention and masquerade (Goofy becoming gaucho in Saludos Amigos, for example). Sometimes, of course, reinvention and rediscovery become one and the same: Charlotte Vale in Now, Voyager, for instance, takes on a false identity in her cruise to Rio precisely in order to reconnect with her true desires; in the end she is Camille Beauchamps, even if she has to leave that identity behind again when she returns North.

And this paradox, that Latin America is the site simultaneously of both truth and falsity, is not so dissimilar from the paradox (which I mentioned in discussing Tycoon) that it instantiates both nature and culture at the same time.

Borderline posterIn Borderline, which is a sort of film noir lite, Mexico is the site of duplicity and pretence. Which is why the film rather goes against the conventions of noir, and becomes more a comedy of errors.

Claire Trevor plays Madeleine Haley, and ambitious young cop sent south to infiltrate and investigate a gang of drug-traffickers headed by one Pete Ritchie. She takes on the name "Gladys LaRue" and the character of, first, dancehall floozy and, then, gangster's moll to gain access to the formidable Ritchie, played by Raymond Burr. Yet she ends up kidnapped by another gang boss, who sends her North with a consignment of drugs in the company of hardman Johnny Macklin. Little does she realize, however, that Macklin is, like her, a cop in disguise, tender-hearted Johnny McEvoy under his tough-guy exterior.

In an incident-packed trip through Mexico, "LaRue" and "Macklin" tell each other tall stories about their delinquent pasts as cold-hearted murderer, in LaRue's tale, or in prison or on the lam, "barbequeing the bloodhounds they sent after me," in Macklin's. They take a certain delight in these exaggerated narratives. No wonder Macklin says "Sometimes I get the feeling that you're not telling me everything." "You know, I get the same feeling about you," replies LaRue. But these lies are fun, and especially for Haley/LaRue it's a refreshing change from her role as perpetually spoken-over and unheard subordinate woman in the USA.

But the border itself is the moment of truth, at which their identities suddenly unravel as Haley tries to have Macklin arrested, and McEvory likewise tries to turn LaRue in to the authorities. "You suggest that I cooperate...?" exclaims Haley. "Just who is this girl?" asks McEvoy. And each is as upset with the other as though they were really criminals betrayed by an informer. They have over-identified with their roles, but are shocked by the other's role-playing.

For they don't realize that, in this case at least, the performance has to stop at the borderline.

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