Monday, June 14, 2010

Illegal Entry (1949)

Illegal Entry is a straight forward crime programmer with a couple strong doses of irony, but more on those later. Put out by Universal in the summer of 1949 and staring Howard Duff as Bert Powers, a down on his luck former WWII pilot who’s now trying to earn a buck with his own one plane air freight company.

While short on panache, what the film lacks in style is more than made up in the impressive who’s who of actors filling both key and minor roles. In addition to the steely Duff, Anna, the female who’s playing both sides is handled deftly by Märta Torén with George Brent playing Dan Collins, Chief Agent of the Immigration Bureau.

While we’re got three suitable leads it’s really the supporting players, as is very usually the case, who are really the most watchable. Start with Tom Tully as Nick Gruber who runs a seemly kosher air fright company out of L.A. His short list of his pilots include; Paul Stewart, Clifton Young, Ken Tobey, and David Opatoshu.

The brains behind the whole set-up is Dutch Lempo played by Richard Rober who has among his henchmen Teague, played with his usual menacing ways by the swarthy Anthony Caruso. If this isn’t enough you also get the screen debut of everyone’s favorite Italian, better make that third favorite after Tito Vuolo and Jay Novello, Vito Scotti in an unbilled role as a “Mexican youth.”

The whole package is under the direction of Fred De Cordova, who while having a decent run as a director (among his credits are Bedtime of Bonzo and Bonzo Goes to College) is best remembered as the long time producer of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

While the subject of illegal entry into the United States is currently a hot topic, the problem is far from new and in 1949 two noirs were released that addressed the issue. The other film was the far superior Border Incident which came out four months later and dealt specifically with Mexicans crossing the border illegally. Our film takes a broader view, for it also looks at the illegal entry into the states of persons from war-torn European counties as well as Mexico and its here that the story begins.

We open with a couple high rating officials of the Immigration Department reading lines as to the seriousness of the offences and how diligently their department is working to combat the issue and bring a quick solution to it. Next up is the anticipated voice over and fade to a horseback mounted immigration agent making his normal rounds in the mountains of Southern California. Only what he spots is far from normal we’re told as he comes upon a dead body with “DACHUA 57437” tattooed upon the back. There’s not a tire mark or footprint to be found. So did this body just fall from the sky? Turns out, yes it did!

Quickly figuring out there’s more than one way to import bodies into the states, Chief Agent Dan Collins congers up a plan to trap those responsible. After getting a tip there’s something shady going on at the Blue Danube Café in L.A. being run by Anna Duvak O’Neil he makes a beeline to Amarillo to convince Bert Powers, who flew with Anna’s departed husband during the war, to go undercover and help get at the bunch who are “vicious and rotten and trading on people’s miseries.”

With no interest in helping but financially “flat as Texas,” Bert of course agrees to join up and once in L.A. is swore in as a duly authorized member of the Immigration Department.

At this point it bears noting the seemingly unending number of coincidences that occur in this, and just about every noir; a man falls from the sky, he’s got a concentration camp tattoo, some one sees a photo of the tattoo in the paper, they tip the law to the café, the café is run by the widow of a flyer, his former co-pilot has a business that’s failing, failing flyer agrees to assist the law and gets hired by the very company that’s flying people across the border. Amassing, but I guess that’s why we all bank heavily upon the suspension of disbelief ever time we plop ourselves down to watch these films we love.

As noted above, Bert ends up getting hired by Nick Gruber of California Air Lines soon after making contact at the Blue Danube and letting Anna know he’s desperate for work. Of course Anna’s been duped into her role in the whole scheme as we learn she herself had her brother brought into the country illegally when dating one of the pilots. She’s now romantically involved with the big boss Dutch Lempo and commutes via the airline to visit Dutch in Mexico, as he’s previously been deported for some unmentioned criminal offence. Actually the whole “romantic” involvement bit is more in Dutch’s mind than a reality as Anna complies solely to maintain the safety of her brother and thus keep him from the authorities and the certainty of being sent back to the old country.

Now not to throw cold water on the whole affair, but I’m betting you’d figure that Bert ends up the hero and also gets the girl in the end. So let me jump to that bit about double irony I mentioned; as noted Anna’s only motivation for being involved with the whole lot of thugs is out of concern for her brother. The brother is of course distraught over the pickle he’s got Anna in so in order is get Anna free of the mess she’s in, he ends up bumping himself off!

Second, Dutch who’s been deported and makes a nice living getting people into the place from which he was thrown out of, gets his just desserts when he flies into L.A. on one of his own planes and is apprehended by the authorities. Well no one said crooks are the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Lastly, while many noirs of the time make use of L.A. landmarks, think City Hall and Union Station, this is the only one I can recall that actually films on historic Olvera Street, the birthplace of the City of Los Angeles. It also bears noting the airports used for depositing the human cargo were, at the time, quaint and small outpost of Southern California; “Colton, Santa Ana and Ontario.” When hearing this I couldn’t help but think had Jack Benny rather that Dutch been running the gang and they made use of trains rather than planes the stations would have been, “Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.”

Written by Raven


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