Possibly the closest that Jack Nicholson has ever come to playing an old-fashioned hero was the role of Charlie Smith, in a film whose writers had worked on ‘The Wild Bunch’ and ‘The Deer Hunter’. A U.S. border patrol guard who’s disenchanted with his work, Charlie, accedes to his wife, Marcy’s, wishes to move to El Paso so they can enjoy a higher standard of living and stay in a duplex near her friend Savannah, and her husband Cat, who also works for the border patrol. But after relocating, Charlie is so appalled by the level of corruption and bribery of the area’s guards, which includes running illegal aliens across the border to work as farmhands and which is run by Cat, that he initially opts not to become involved. He realises he has to go on the take, however, when Marcy, an eager consumer, racks up some serious debts while decorating their new apartment. Charlie takes an interest in Maria, an illegal who has returned the hubcaps her brother stole from him, regarding her as an emblem of the purity long absent from his own life. When her baby is kidnapped and sold to Cat for resale to adoptive parents, Charlie decides to act. Jack shelves his usual mannerisms to give one of the most powerful and underrated performances of his career, in an effective, low-key melodrama about a situation that hasn’t changed a whit in the decades since the film was made.



January 31, 1982


Tony Richardson


David Freeman, Walon Green & Deric Washburn (writer)


United International Pictures (UIP)


Crime, Drama




108 minutes