Claire Trevor’s 3-Pronged Attack in the War on Drugs

It's up to Claire Trevor (centre) to take down a Mexican drug ring. Image: Wikipedia
Claire Trevor (centre) is taking down a Mexican drug ring. Image: Wikipedia

Before Claire Trevor is sent to infiltrate a Mexican drug ring in the 1950 crime comedy, Borderline, she is asked a question many women recognize:

“Do you think you can handle this?”

Aww, isn’t that cute? Trevor’s character, a smart and experienced member of the Los Angeles Police Department, is asked if she can handle this. To her credit, she refrains from a sarcastic reply.

Trevor is primarily selected for the assignment because she is an attractive woman who is supposed to seduce elusive drug lord Raymond Burr. However, it’s not until she arrives in Mexico that her mad espionage skills become evident. In the War on Drugs, Trevor proves herself to be a regular Sun Tzu.

But if busting up a drug ring weren’t tricky enough, Trevor has the added complication of trying not to fall in love with Burr’s drug-trafficking rival, Fred MacMurray.

Fred MacMurray provides a little too much distraction. Image:
Uh oh – Fred MacMurray becomes a little too distracting. Image: Weirdland

What’s this? You’re surprised that a mainstream comedy from 1950 would explore drug trafficking?

Turns out the U.S. and Mexican governments have a long history of duking it out over drugs. Things began to get a little tense during Prohibition when folks discovered marijuana was cheaper than alcohol. (If you’d like to read more on the subject of Mexican drug trafficking, you can check out the UNESCO paper HERE.)

And let’s just overlook the fact that the Hollywood film community has long been a supporter of the narcotics industry, even though it makes movies that say Drugs Are Bad.

As for the film Borderline, it isn’t clear what kind of narcotics are being shipped into the U.S. But we know the payoff is worth the risk, because both sides are putting their Best People on the case.

So if anyone is going to make major advances in this war on drugs, it’s our gal Trevor. The only tools she needs are her wits and permanent press wardrobe.

Oh – and this nifty spy camera, which she pulls out of her sleek handbag:

lksdjf asked Image:
A mini camera is your best friend in espionage. Image:

How does Trevor topple a Mexican drug ring? Her approach is simple; she uses a classic Three-Pronged Attack:

  1. Improvisation. When the menacing Burr catches her snooping through his bedroom, she immediately acts inebriated. She also pretends she finds Burr charming and irresistible – which in itself is quite a feat.
  2. Focus. In another scene, she wakes up in a warehouse and discovers MacMurray had knocked her out by “socking” her in the jaw and dumping her in the warehouse. No matter! Trevor shakes it off and refuses to be dissuaded from her Primary Objective.
  3. Determination. Nobody, and we mean nobody, is getting the best of her, even if she has to trudge through the dusty Mexican countryside, dragging a birdcage stuffed with drugs. (And her superior officers wondered if she could handle it!)

Borderline is a rather uneven movie. Sometimes it’s a Capra-esque comedy, while other times it swerves into film noir territory. However, it has a great cast, a witty script and Californian scenery that feels authentically Mexican. If you’re in the mood for a non-edgy crime flick, give Borderline a try.


  • Classic film blogger Sister Celluloid introduced us to this film through her Streaming Saturdays feature. (Yup, this means free online movies each weekend!) Her fab review, along with the movie itself, is HERE.
  • For a completely different take on this film, check out the review from BNoirDetour HERE.
  • IMDB Trivia on Borderline is HERE.

Borderline: starring Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr. Directed by William A. Seiter. Written by Devery Freeman. Universal Pictures Company, Inc., 1950, B&W, 88 mins.



  1. I LOVED this, Ruth!! I love the way you write — so conversational and funny and informative all at the same time. And of course I share your love of all things Claire… how could anyone doubt her ability to handle just about anything? Even, gasp, pretending to be in love with Raymond Burr, which must have been the toughest part of the assignment.

    And as you point out, it’s a bit hard to pin down exactly what this is, but that’s one of the things I love about it! I have a soft spot for movies that aren’t quite sure what they want to be when they grow up.

    And thank you for your kind words about my piece! I’m never sure, when I throw an oddball pick in there, if people will like it as much as I did. I’m so glad you did!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always liked Claire Trevor. She played the femme fatal in film noir very well but her more complex character in Key Largo was very well done. It’s interesting to see her here as a law officer.

    Also, I don’t think that it was all that rare for classic films to deal with drugs (as a criminal element). I actually just did a blog post about this. It was rare, however, for films to depict drug addiction. It’s actually two very different things.



    • Yes, narcotics do show up quite a bit in classic film noir and “true crime” films, but I didn’t know it was common in comedies ca 1950 (which is how I’ve classified this film). I will check out your post for suggestions. Thanks!


  3. Ha!! I like your emphasis on “if she could handle it” more than once!! 😉
    Of course the 1950’s was still a male-centric world, even in the west. Today she’d punch the fellow on the nose for asking silly sexist questions.
    Of course this part of the world is still pretty sexist, and even worse …(I won’t go into detail now).
    Anyway nice review, nice read for the new year.
    Happy 2016 Ruth!!
    Nuwan Sen


  4. A 1950 crime comedy with Claire and Fred? This I need to see–because I’ve never seen BORDERLINE and its sounds very intriguing (to say the least). I also tend to enjoy Claire more in her 1950-and-later films. Thanks for the movie recommendation!


  5. Sounds like an interesting film, Ruth! I can’t imagine Fred MacMurray as a drug trafficker since I am more familiar with him as the father in “My Three Sons”. I like how you describe Trevors 3 pronged approach to toppling a Mexican drug ring. It’s all so very logical! 🙂 I am also surprised that this is the subject matter in a movie from 1950 and that it is kind of a comedy. What a combination! I see why you call it uneven. Even so, I would like to see this one. Thanks for calling it to my attention.


    • It’s a crazy movie, but if you know that going in, it’ll be less confusing. Besides, the cast alone is worth watching – I mean, Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor and Raymond Burr in the same film? A person has to see it for that reason alone. 🙂


  6. I’m not at all familiar with this film, Ruth, but how can you pass up the opportunity to watch America’s top defense attorney compete with one of sit-comdom’s top dads and both are operating outside of the law? In drugs, no less!?!?! I’ve put this movie on my must-see list. Thanks, Ruth, for the heads-up.


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