Gloria Grahame leans over a car with Sterling Hayden in a publicity still from "Naked Alibi" (1954)
The quasi-alien terrain of the border noirs lodges its characters in-between the ‘civilized’ United States and the realm of the unknown. As such, the noiresque borders are conceptually understood as liminal spaces. The films mark patterns of crossing and collision between nation-states and subnational identities.
John Garfield as Frank Chambers washes his car 's windshield in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946)
The social context in which film noir emerged is designated as transitional whose borders are the very markers of a culture of transience. These ‘‘itinerant spaces’’ emerged from common places in the disruptive wartime and postwar American culture and gained an exaggerated presence once transported to the big screen.
Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart take turns at driving a car in "In a Lonely Place" (1950) directed by Nicholas Ray
For example, "Touch of Evil" (1958), "Where Danger Lives" (1950), and "Naked Alibi" (1954) each take place in seedy motels on the US–Mexican border, whereas Americans in "Niagara" and "Road House" (1948) lodge in establishments along the Canadian border. In "Niagara", the cars zip back and forth across the Rainbow Bridge, which spans the Niagara gorge dividing Canada and the United States. On-screen, the automobiles and their anonymous passengers are seemingly locked in a perpetual transnational circuit.
Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum in a driving scene from "Out of The Past" (1947) directed by Jacques Tourneur
‘‘Fill your gas tank and hit the road. The big rolling freeways and the fantastic traffic patterns, monuments to a civilization that moves on wheels.’’ Yet, cars in the border noirs function as instruments of danger. In 'Where Danger Lives', Margo Lannington (Faith Domergue) and Jeff Cameron (Robert Mitchum) travel by car on a paranoid journey through an absurdist post-World War II southwestern border landscape, filled with bizarre characters and surreal small towns.
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