borderline poster

In the list of films credited to have “starred” Charles Bronson, Borderline seems but a blip on the radar and is generally one of his lesser known efforts from his leading man days. Perhaps it’s because it’s not an outright variation on his Paul Kersey character like so many of his roles for Cannon Studios turned out to be from 1982 forward. Still he does have his sights set on bringing a killer to justice. The actor in question has become a heavyweight of his own in films. Mr. Ed Harris.

From my point of view as a self proclaimed fan of the mustached one, Borderline represents a personal right of passage. It’s the first film of Charlie’s that I was allowed to see at the theater growing up as it wasn’t rated R. It also has one heck of a film poster and yes, it’s in my collection as is the films’ original press kit.


Directed by Jerold Freedman, Borderline tells of the business involved in smuggling aliens across the U.S border near San Diego California. It’s here that Bronson stars as the head of a group of Rangers on constant patrol along the U.S. /Mexico border. John Ashton, Norman Alden and the well known Wilford Brimley make up part of his team. Arriving as well playing a young rookie that Bronson will mentor is Bruno Kirby.

Charles Bronson in Borderline (1980)

On a late night routine check, one of Bronson’s crew will pull over a produce truck and sure enough discover a load of illegal aliens on board. What he doesn’t expect is Ed Harris holding a shotgun. Harris leaves both the officer and a young boy making his way to the U.S. in the ditch killed by the blast.

At this point you could expect the typical Bronson to turn up and while he does swear he’ll get his man it’s a slow methodical search that leads him to the big city and based on an address in the boy’s pocket, the child’s Mother played by Karmin Murcelo. Murcelo will in turn play an important part in helping Bronson by going back over the border to arrange being smuggled in once again. This time with her mute cousin who is actually Bronson undercover. Things don’t quite go right but it allows Bronson to get that much closer to the smuggling operation and his prey Ed Harris.

BORDERLINE, first two from left: Charles Bronson, Karmin Murcelo, 1980. ©Associated Film Distribution

“He’s like a bulldog.” This from rancher Bert Remsen to his big city counterpart Michael Lerner who are the head men in the operation of moving aliens across the border for low wage work through out the country. Thanks to the wily Harris they have turned their operation into a substantially profitable business.

Along with his staff and the young Bruno Kirby, Bronson will set off a sting operation intended to take down the big city operation and avenge the life of his friend and co-worker by facing off against Harris. Mano a Mano.

ed harris borderline

While this isn’t the usual Bronson gun fest it’s still enjoyable for the fans and perhaps just as topical as ever in today’s current political arena.

Bronson’s performance here is one of experience as he oversees his crew and also as teacher to Kirby. It’s through Kirby’s eyes that we see the suffering of those being smuggled in looking to fulfill not only their dreams but to find work and be useful.

The best performance in the film comes from Karmin Murcelo who must deal with both the anguish and grief of losing her son to Harris’s killer but also by having to worry about Bronson sending her back across the border after making her way illegally to the U.S.

This film was available years back on VHS but fell by the wayside until just recently being released on DVD in Canada. Though I wish the print was better and widescreen would have been welcomed, I’ll settle for this and add it to the library thus replacing my VHS version.

bert remsen

Character player Bert Remsen has one of those faces that you know you’ve seen a hundred times before but perhaps can’t put a name to the face. Would you believe that he even turned up opposite Bronson way back in an episode of Bronson’s TV show Man With a Camera back in 1958!

Worth a look for fans of Bronson and those looking to see him try a characterization just a little different from the avenging angel we’re used to.