It Happened Down in Mexico
Why is it that any movie which is in black & white and features a crime story with a dangerous gangster has to be called film noir? It is one of my pet hates as if that was the case a lot of movies made before 1960 would be called noir. Take "Borderline" from 1950, it's in black and white and features a storyline about a drug lord using tourists as drug mules to sneak drugs from Mexico to L.A. That information on it's own probably does sound a bit film-noirish but then "Borderline" is really a romantic confusion comedy with just a touch of noir and taken as a confusion comedy it's far more entertaining than if someone labels it as film-noir.
The US Treasury Department are desperate to get enough evidence on drug lord Pete Ritchie (Raymond Burr) but every agent they send to Mexico they're spotted to quickly. That's when Madeleine Haley (Claire Trevor - Farewell My Lovely) steps forwards as Ritchie has a thing for dames and being a female agent she has a better chance than anyone of getting close to him. And all goes well as she manages to get close to Ritchie but that is when Johnny (Fred MacMurray - Flight for Freedom) busts in and kidnaps Madeleine to use for his own drug business. But are things really as simple and as straight forwards as that.
Spoiler alert during the rest of review I will mention things which you don't learn immediately so if you don't want to know then watch the movie rather than reading about it.
Right from the get go "Borderline" plays it for laughs from a desk covered in reefers to the way the agents in charge of the investigation try to overlook Madeleine whilst she eagerly stands there. And that continues when we see her arrive in Mexico and takes a job as a showgirl in a small bar as she can't sing or dance. But that is not it as the real comedy comes from when we watch Madeleine and Johnny hit the road with Ritchie's drugs as we discover that Johnny is also an agent except neither of them realise this. So we get plenty of laughs as we watch Madeleine waiting for Johnny to leave the room to take photos of the drugs and then Johnny does the same when she leaves.
What we also get is some road trip comedy and in a way "Borderline" made me think of "It Happened One Night" especially when they stop off at a motel and Madeleine is concerned about sharing a room with Johnny. None of this humour is that original but thanks to Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor most of the jokes work and for the most the jokes run at a nice pace so it never becomes too forced.
But as I said there is also a touch of noir to the movie, not so much when it comes to the styling but in the character of Pete Ritchie. Raymond Burr makes for an imposing drugs lord although one which is slightly humorous as well because of the exaggerated facial expressions. Like with MacMurray and Trevor his performance works and in many ways it is a shame he is not in the movie more.
What this all boils down to is that "Borderline" is entertaining but only if you approach it as a romantic, confusion comedy. If you watch it having read it is film-noir the chances are you will be disappointed.