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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

BORDERTOWN (1935)

Even the non-stellar talent gives off heat in this Warners meller about a striving Mexican-American (a Max Factor’d Paul Muni) who makes a fast rise from flop L.A. barrio lawyer to (just) South-of-the-Border casino entrepreneur. Along the way, he attracts the attentions of his partner’s discontented wife (Bette Davis) and a high society gal (Margaret Lindsey) out for a daring sexcapade. Turns out he’s misread them both: one could kill for him; the other could drop him on a moment’s notice. The story plays off the class & racial attitudes of its time, but the prejudices, if anything, only add to the interest. (All but the final moral, a bit too much to swallow even in hindsight.) Muni tends to overplay, but still makes his mark while Bette Davis is really starting to show her stuff, going off her rocker to scarifying effect after she gets gross hubby Eugene Pallette out of the way. The real surprise here is seeing stolid Archie Mayo meg with such pace & dynamic visuals. Kudos to D. P. Tony Gaudio. And who was responsible for getting the normally business-like second-lead Margaret Lindsay up and running? Not the go-to girl for hot-to-trot sybarites, but she sure delivers.

DOUBLE-BILL: Halfway in, Raoul Walsh’s THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT/’40 turns into a near remake with George Raft, Ida Lupino & Alan Hale in for Muni, Davis & Pallette. It’s a smoother, but less memorable ride.

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