This article explores a pair of postwar Hollywood films: Illegal Entry (Universal-International, 1949) and Lady Without Passport(MGM, 1950). The movies dramatize the nation's uneasy effort during this era to distinguish “refugees” from “illegal aliens.” Both revolve around upstanding US government investigators falling for gorgeous, foreign ladies who are caught up in the underworld of human smuggling. Written, filmed, and shown at a moment in which the United States was debating how and whether to legally recognize, for the first time, the special status of refugees’ claims to enter the nation, the plots of both films wrestle with the question of what such claims might mean. On the surface, both movies praise U.S. efforts at immigration control; at the same time, both also call such efforts into question in the face of migrants’ hardships. But the behind-the-scenes history of the films’ production is equally noteworthy, for it reveals the curious circuitry by which new narratives around refugees were generated at this volatile postwar moment. Drawing on archival research in Hollywood and Washington DC, I tell the story of how these films grew out of a strange collaboration between movie producers and government officials, all invested in forging “reality entertainment” that projected their vision of the US immigration regime onto the nation's silver screens.
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