Wetbacks


1h 29m 1956

Brief Synopsis

About to lose his sole possession, his boat, for lack of payments, ex- Coast Guardsman Jim Benson takes a gamble on a fishing charter and removes the boat from the dock despite a sheriff's seizure order. But Jim finds himself with a loudmouthed drunk, Shanks, and his companion, Sally. To avoid paying for the fishing excursion, Shanks stages a fight with Jim and, when Jim puts him ashore at a small Mexican port, Shanks takes off, stranding both Jim (who is out of gas as well as cash) and Sally. The two begin to become "friends in need" and are put up by Alfonso, local innkeeper who is a friend of Jim's. But the town is the base of operations for a gang, led by Bodine and Ortega, who smuggle illegal aliens into California for a profit. Learning of Jim's plight, they offer him money to run 'just one' shipment of these 'wetbacks' across the border - then blackmail Jim to continue working for them. Sally tries to persuade him to tell the police, but he is too afraid and plans to run away, so Sally reveals a secret which she intends to make him want to stay and fight to clear his name...

Film Details

Release Date
Feb 1956
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 22 Feb 1956
Production Company
Banner Pictures, Inc.; Pacific Coast Pictures
Distribution Company
Gibraltar Motion Picture Distributors, Inc.; Realart Film Exchange
Country
United States
Location
Catalina Island, California, United States; San Pedro, California, United States; Mexico

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

Immigration officers engage in a gun battle when smugglers try to unload a boatful of illegal immigrants onto a U.S. beach. Later, at the U.S. Immigration Bureau, an officer complains to his superior that although illegal immigrants, or "wetbacks," are being smuggled across the borders of Texas, California and Arizona, the bureau has no idea where the operation is based. Describing the smugglers as "the most vicious kind of human scavengers," the official remarks that they take in four to five thousand dollars per week from families who often give up their life savings in order to get one of their members into the United States. Once there, the immigrants are hired out as farm labor, while the smugglers, who have promised their customers good jobs and homes, simply disappear. The official, however, has a plan. Jim Benson, an ex-Coast Guard officer and present owner of a nearly bankrupt charter fishing business, persuades the man to whom he is deeply in debt to let him take his vessel on one more trip. As Jim tears the "Sheriff's Sale" notice from his boat, two men, one of them Mexican, approach him with a business offer, but he ignores them. At that moment, Karl Shanks and Sally Parker, Jim's obnoxious customer and his date, arrive for their Mexican fishing trip. While Jim makes coffee, Karl quietly tinkers with his fishing rod, and during the trip, complains constantly. Finally, he offers Jim twice his fee if he can locate a fish, but threatens to pay nothing if they return from the trip empty-handed. A huge marlin bites, but because Karl has tampered with the rod, the fish gets away. Realizing he has been tricked, Jim threatens to strangle Karl if he refuses to pay. Karl demands to be taken to the nearest town, promising to give Jim the money. When they arrive in Delgado, Mexico, however, Karl secretly pours beer in the gas tank and runs away. The two men from the dock, who described themselves as importer/exporters, again try to hire Jim, but he is suspicious of them and refuses. Alphonso, the owner of the local cantina and inn, has neither the gasoline nor the money to help his stranded friend, and even Sally, sitting dejectedly at the bar, declares that she is broke. Jim and Sally talk until late, whereupon she retires and Jim returns to the boat. The two men, who identify themselves as Steve Bodine and Juan Ortega, admit that they want Jim to carry a number of Mexican men across the border, claiming that the work that awaits them there will give them and their families "a chance." Because he so desperately needs the money, Jim reluctantly agrees to make the run, but when Sally questions him, he changes his mind. Bodine and Ortega, however, threaten Jim with a gun and begin to load men onto the boat. The wife of one of the laborers, not believing that her husband will be paid a fortune just for picking cotton, begs him not to go, but he insists on making the trip. During the run, Jim tries to change course, but Bodine's henchman notices and punches him. A Coast Guard vessel calls to Jim, but because the crew knows him, they allow his boat to pass. When Jim returns to Delgado, Bodine informs him that he must continue making the runs. Frustrated and scared, Jim confesses to Sally, but when he refuses to admit his crime to the police, she reveals that she is a U.S. Immigration Bureau agent. Jim reacts with fury to the news that he has been planted in Delgado to help uncover the smugglers. They argue, and Sally leaves, but Ortega sees her peering into the smugglers' headquarters and locks her up. Back in the U.S., an Immigration inspector learns that Jim is being used and angrily orders his men to get him out. Meanwhile, Sally frees herself and finds Jim in Delgado's main street, where they hide temporarily from the smugglers by blending in with the crowds of a local fiesta. Jim's little friend Pedro secretly siphons gas from the town taxi and pours it into the tank of Jim's boat. The smugglers beat the boy, but Jim and Sally escape to the boat, which has been loaded with a single immigrant. Their vessel is closely pursued by the smugglers, and while hiding with Jim in a small cove, Sally explains that she became an agent after her father, a boatman, was killed by wetback smugglers. Bodine and Ortega chase the couple through the waves, and Jim tries to take cover from their bullets by weaving around a large freighter. The arrival of a Coast Guard boat sends the smugglers running, but they are soon caught. Shanks reveals that he, too, is an agent, and that he has deposited a large sum of money in Jim's account. On Jim's boat, Sally and Jim kiss.

Film Details

Release Date
Feb 1956
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 22 Feb 1956
Production Company
Banner Pictures, Inc.; Pacific Coast Pictures
Distribution Company
Gibraltar Motion Picture Distributors, Inc.; Realart Film Exchange
Country
United States
Location
Catalina Island, California, United States; San Pedro, California, United States; Mexico

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Film Length
9 reels

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

A 3 May 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item states that producer Hank McCune changed the title of his production company, Telecraft Productions, to Pacific Coast Pictures, with Wetbacks slated as the company's first film. Information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library lists George J. Waldman Co. in association with the production of Wetbacks; however, no further information has been found to determine the nature of their involvement.
       According to a May 3, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film's interiors were to be shot at Westfilm Studios. A May 24, 1955 Daily Variety news item stated that filming began on May 4, 1955 on Catalina Island, but was halted after approximately two weeks due to a labor dispute between McCune and the actors. The actors protested that according to their SAG contracts, McCune owed them nine hundred dollars in back salaries. McCune was not allowed to resume shooting until the back salaries were paid, and certified checks for advance salaries for the actors as well as other guild and union members were issued. Production restarted in early July 1955. According to the film's pressbook, filming also took place in Mexico, while Hollywood Reporter production charts additionally list San Pedro, CA. The technical director, Lt. Commander R. C. Cannon, was an officer in the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Contemporary sources note that the Coast Guard provided the production with technical advice and equipment.