The story in movie BORDERTOWN involved murder by carbon monoxide and had Margaret Lindsay in the cast. Thelma Todd died of carbon monoxide poisoning after this movie came out and Margaret Lindsay was also one of the last people to see her alive.
Bordertown (1935 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Archie Mayo|
|Produced by||Jack L. Warner|
Hal B. Wallis
|Written by||Laird Doyle|
|Music by||Bernhard Kaun|
|Editing by||Thomas Richards|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||90 minutes|
PlotAfter graduating from Pacific Night Law School in Los Angeles, feisty and ambitious Mexican American Johnny Ramirez loses his first court case because he is ill-prepared. His poor, Hispanic client's truck was destroyed by careless debutante Dale Elwell. Johnny is harassed by the opposing attorney, uppercrust Brook Manville, who is defending his lover, Elwell. Johnny reacts, losing his temper and the case. Disbarred for his actions, he journeys to a small town south of the border and finds work as a bouncer, in a seedy casino owned by Charlie Roark. Johnny helps transform the dive into a first-class nightclub called the Silver Slipper that attracts an upscale crowd, and Charlie makes him a partner to reward him for his efforts.
Charlie's lonely, unhappily married wife Marie makes a play for Johnny, who resists her advances. Certain Johnny has shunned her simply because she is married, she locks her inebriated husband in the garage and leaves the car running, asphyxiating him.
Dale Elwell and her society friends, including Brook Manville, visit the club and Johnny becomes infatuated with her. A jealous Marie accuses Johnny of murdering Charlie, but when called to testify at his trial, she collapses on the witness stand, having become insane. Johnny returns to Los Angeles and proposes to Dale, who contemptuously rejects him, citing the dramatic differences in their racial and economic backgrounds. Johnny decides to sell the Silver Slipper, donate the proceeds to a law school, and settle in Los Angeles among his own people.
ProductionBordertown was one of the first films to come under the close scrutiny of the Hays Office, which finally was enforcing the Motion Picture Production Code introduced in 1930. In the original script, Johnny Ramirez was disbarred for committing murder and had an affair with Marie Roark, two plot elements that had to be revised before the screenplay was approved.
Leading man Paul Muni wanted either Carole Lombard or Lupe Vélez as his co-star, but after hearing the positive feedback his contract player Bette Davis was receiving for her performance in Of Human Bondage, which was in production at RKO, studio head Jack L. Warner decided to cast her in the role of Marie Roark. "The part of Marie was an excellent acting part - a step in the direction of where I wanted my career to go", Davis later recalled. "I wanted to be known as an actress, not necessarily a star, although that would be the frosting on the cake if it should ever come about."
After murdering her husband, Marie undergoes a gradual mental deterioration, culminating in a collapse in the courtroom. Director Archie Mayo expected Davis to deliver a histrionic performance, but the actress, whose own sister suffered from a mental disorder, insisted a subtle portrayal of the breakdown was more appropriate and accurate. "When I firmly and sincerely believed I should play my role a certain way, I wasn't afraid to argue about it with my director", Davis remembered. "They wanted me to be a raving lunatic in the courtroom scene, pull my hair, and scream. That is the only way insanity had been played on the screen up to that time." After the film was completed, studio executives felt viewers would fail to realize Marie was insane and insisted Davis re-shoot the scene. She agreed she would do so only if preview audiences did not realize the character had descended into madness. "I was never asked to do a retake", Davis recalled.
- Paul Muni .... Johnny Ramirez
- Bette Davis .... Marie Roark
- Margaret Lindsay .... Dale Elwell
- Eugene Pallette .... Charlie Roark
- Gavin Gordon ..... Brook Manville
Critical receptionAndre Sennwald of the New York Times called the film "a raw and biting melodrama dealing with the bitterly realistic emotions" that permits Paul Muni "to scrape the nerves in the kind of taut and snarling role at which he is so consummately satisfying" and to display "his great talent for conviction and theatrical honesty." He cited the "fine and uncommonly honest performance" of Bette Davis, who he found to be "effective and touching in pathological mazes which the cinema rarely dares to examine." While he thought Johnny's "feeble confessional at the conclusion of Bordertown is an unconvincing and inconsistent denouement for the career of such a vigorous rebel against the established order", he felt the film "otherwise manages to impale the spectator's attention before the picturesque and somewhat hysterical materials of the story."
- Bordertown at Turner Classic Movies
- Stine, Whitney, and Davis, Bette, Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis. New York: Hawthorn Books 1974. ISBN 0-8015-5184-6, pp. 55-57
- Higham, Charles, The Life of Bette Davis. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company 1981. ISBN 0-02-551500-4, p. 69
- New York Times review
* * *
Some people wondered if the death of Thelma Todd could have been a "copycat murder" inspired by this movie. By coincidence, Margaret Lindsay was also at the Trocadero on the night of Thelma's last party. Lindsay was going with Pat DiCicco, who was Thelma's ex-husband. DiCicco had asked for an invitation, and, while he came to the Trocadero, he remained away from table at which Thelma sat with the Lupinos.
Some elements from this story were later reused in the 1940 movie THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT, which had Ida Lupino in place of Bette Davis. Ida Lupino was also one of the last people to see Thelma Todd alive, having been present at the party her father threw for Thelma Todd.
Paul Muni and Bette Davis in a scene from the movie.
Paul Muni, Margaret Lindsay, and Bette Davis on a lobby card for BORDERTOWN.
Paul Muni, Bette Davis and Margaret Lindsay on a lobby card for BORDERTOWN.
The title sequence from BORDERTOWN: