Zona Libre is a small enclave across the river from America. Despotically ruled by General Calleja, it offers sanctuary to outlaws, at a price. Newly arrived is Clete Mattson who has $2million in gold to buy guns for the Confederacy. But who can he trust with so much money around? Certainly not Calleja, but maybe the eye-catching Carmelita? The General thinks she’s his property but she seems rather to fancy Mattson. Whatever’s going on, Mexico wants the place back.
Border River at it’s time was one of a dwindling band of westerns where you could have a Confederate hero as the lead. Joel McCrea plays a man who was a major on Robert E. Lee’s staff. He’s pulled off one very big heist at the Denver Mint and he’s got 2 million in gold bullion. But what to do with it? Actually the miracle is how he got it from Colorado to Texas, the stuff is pretty bulky.
McCrea crosses the Rio Grande to a place called Zona Libre where neither the writ of Emperor Maximilian nor that of Benito Juarez runs. Instead the guy in charge is Pedro Armendariz who’s a tin-pot tyrant and his right hand man is Alfonso Bedoya who revs up his Gold Hat character from The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. There’s also saloon entertainer Yvonne DeCarlo who’s the general’s personal squeeze, but she takes a fancy to McCrea and later proves invaluable to him.
McCrea’s interest is to buy supplies for the Confederate army with the stolen gold. But there’s a real lack of trustworthy people around from Armendariz on down. There’s a whole lot of intrigue going on in the Zona Libre. There’s also the looming shadow of Juarez who’d really like to put Armendariz and remove a real problem from his rear.
Border River is a competently made western with the truest cowboy hero around Joel McCrea in the lead. He and DeCarlo work well together. But the ones to watch are Armendariz and Bedoya trying to outdo each other in evil. Bedoya looks like he’s having a great old time out-acting the cast of about ten different films.