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Film / Bordertown

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Bordertown is a 1935 film directed by Archie Mayo.

Johnny Ramirez (Paul Muni) is a Mexican-American man living in Los Angeles. Driven by ambition to make something better of himself, Johnny has slaved away for five years going to law school by night, and as the film opens, has just graduated. He has dreams of success, and takes on the case of a humble produce salesman whose truck was hit by Dale Elwell (Margaret Lindsay), a socialite who was driving drunk.

The lawsuit goes to court but apparently Johnny's law school lessons didn't take, as he horribly botches the case and the suit is summarily dismissed. When Dale's attorney, a sneering arrogant WASP type, mocks him, Johnny punches the WASP in the face. This gets him disbarred. Johnny, who now believes that you can't enter into the ranks of the respectable without money, decides to get money however he can.


He gets it in a town just south of the border with Mexico. Johnny gets a job as manager of a casino run by an amiable but dimwitted gringo, Charlie Roark (Eugene Pallette). Under Johnny's management the casino becomes a big success and Johnny gets Charlie to make him a partner, but there's a complication in the person of Charlie's much younger, sexy, horny wife Marie (Bette Davis). Marie overtly hits on Johnny, but Johnny, not wanting to mess up the good thing he has going, refuses her advances. So Marie kills her husband.

1940 film They Drive by Night is a semi-remake.



  • Artistic License – Law: You wouldn't get disbarred for punching someone in court. Maybe prosecuted for assault, but not disbarred.
  • Brownface: Paul Muni, an Eastern European Jew, wearing makeup to play a Mexican.
  • Chekhov's Gun: After the extended discussion where Charlie shows off his remote-operated garage door for Johnny, it's not hard to guess that the garage and door will be important. Sure enough, Marie leaves a drunk Charlie in there with the engine running, then uses the remote control censor to close the door, leaving Charlie to die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: The nasty final meeting between Dale and Johnny has her cruelly rejecting him, him grabbing onto her arm, her pulling away from him, and her running out into the street...where she's hit by a car.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: The priest observes Johnny's intoxication after his disbarment, and Johnny says "I had to do something to keep from thinking."
  • Drunk Driver: Why Dale plowed her car into a produce peddler's truck. Since it's 1935 and she's rich, she suffers no consequences.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Marie's bedroom eyes and the way she purrs "Hello, Johnny" when she sees him at the nightclub tell the viewer exactly what her deal is.
  • Exploding Calendar: Months torn off a calendar illustrate the Time Skip of nearly a year before Act II finds Johnny in Mexico working as manager of a casino.
  • Mal Mariée: It's not explained how young, curvy Marie got married to a dimwitted fat guy who's a good 20 years older than she is. However it happened, she clearly loathes him and she's sexually frustrated, so she sets her sights on Johnny.
  • Nouveau Riche: How Old Money Dale regards Johnny the striver from the lower classes. She clearly got thrills from dating such a "dangerous" character but, in the final confrontation when Johnny asks her to marry him, she says spitefully that he's of a lower class than her and it could never happen.
  • Overly Nervous Flop Sweat: Charlie is mopping sweat from his big bald dome as some shady types lean on him to sell his casino. Johnny's presence gives Charlie the courage to say "no".
  • Reality Ensues: Johnny goes charging into court with his lawsuit, and proceeds to utterly botch his case and gets himself disbarred. Apparently that night-school law education wasn't a good one.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Both Dale and Marie wear backless cocktail dresses when they go out clubbing.
  • Video Credits: At the start of the film as was Warner Brothers house style during this era.
  • Widow's Weeds: Marie, who killed her husband, wears the black dress and veil when selling the local cops her story that Charlie's death was an accident.
  • Woman Scorned: After Johnny says he's still not interested in her after Charlie's death, but prefers Dale, Marie goes back to the cops and accuses Johnny of masterminding Charlie's murder. He gets arrested and probably would have gone to prison, but she has a mental breakdown on the stand.
  • You No Take Candle: Some racist humor with Marie's Chinese servant Wong, who protests her accusation that he's "creeping around" the house by saying "I no creep."

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