With hopes of entering the United States faster, Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer), originally from Romania, moves to a Mexico boarder town. As he applies for his visa, he learns that it will take five to eight years before he can become an American citizen. This feels like a prison sentence to him and he sinks into depression. On the Fourth of July he learns how a friend of his, Anita (Paulette Goddard), became a citizen so quickly, she married an American. What a great idea, so Georges starts scoping out available American women.
He finds Emmy (Olivia de Havilland), a school teacher having car trouble that he met earlier in the day. With his ultimate goal in mind, Georges offers Emmy multiple acts of kindness, including letting Emmy and the children stay overnight in his apartment building. Throughout Emmy’s stay, Georges puts on an act of mystery and charm. It’s not cheesy, but a wiser kind of manipulation, just as sultry. He talks about being lonely and she connects with it, hook, line and sinker.
On July fifth, they marry, meaning that Georges can enter the US in about four weeks, but inspector Hammock (Walter Abel) is in town. He tries to casually keep track of all the people awaiting immigration and he is becoming wiser to how some people will marry just to get into America. For a while, Georges has to juggle Emmy and the Inspector to keep them both in the dark to his plan.
As Georges and Emmy travel Mexico together for their honeymoon, they start to connect more and Georges starts to regret the way he is taking advantage of sweet naive Emmy. Just as Georges is feeling his lowest, Emmy is in an accident and he risks everything, including his passage to America to try to help Emmy.
Along with Georges’ struggle to become an American citizen are smaller tales of people just as desperate. Most of them can only wait patiently in anxious hope, but for a young couple with a child on the way, time is running out. The mother sneaks across the boarder to give birth, ensuring that her child is an American citizen.
While we may not like Georges for taking blatantly taking advantage of Emmy and manipulating the system, by the end he has made up for his wrongdoing. As happy as that is, the film is not very satisfying. These issues with immigration are brought up but nothing is done about them. It seems that the only quick way across the border is marriage, just make sure you are honest about your intentions and find an understanding host to latch onto.
“You see, we are like … two trains, halted for a moment at the same station. But we’re going in different directions. We can’t change our course, any more than we can hold back the dawn.”