Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Narrow Margin (1952)

THE NARROW MARGIN is a taut, terrific film noir about a nightmarish Chicago to Los Angeles train trip.

LAPD Detective Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) is escorting the widow (Marie Windsor) of a mobster to Los Angeles to testify in front of a grand jury. Brown's job is to keep her alive for the duration of the trip -- not easy when the train is crawling with assassins. Brown's one advantage is that the hit men don't know what the woman looks like. Of course, Brown doesn't know who all the hit men are, either...

I've had THE NARROW MARGIN in my stack of movies to watch for some time now. I was motivated to pull it out after reading an interesting Glenn Erickson review of Anthony Mann's THE TALL TARGET, released the same year as THE NARROW MARGIN. Erickson compares the Mann film, which I enjoyed nearly a year ago, to THE NARROW MARGIN, and the parallels he drew piqued my curiosity. After watching THE NARROW MARGIN, I agree that there are very strong similarities between the two films -- including that each is an excellent movie.

THE NARROW MARGIN is only 71 minutes long, and it makes every second count. It's filled with interesting characters, rich dialogue ("poison under the gravy" is a classic), superb cinematography, and Hitchcockian suspense. (The movie would be great on a double bill with Hitchcock's 1938 "train" film THE LADY VANISHES.) There are some fascinating plot twists; I'll be watching closely for foreshadowing when I view the film a second time with the commentary track. In short, the movie is a small gem which I highly recommend.

The supporting cast includes Jacqueline White, with Gordon Gebert (HOLIDAY AFFAIR) as her son. Queenie Leonard, seen here as the little boy's nanny, appeared as Daisy, the switchboard operator, in CONFIRM OR DENY (1941), one of last weekend's movies.

David Clarke, Peter Virgo, Don Beddoe, Harry Harvey, and Paul Maxey are also in the film.

THE NARROW MARGIN was directed by Richard Fleischer. The excellent black and white cinematography is by George E. Diskant, who also photographed THE RACKET (1951) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952).

THE NARROW MARGIN has been released on DVD as part of the Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 2. The print is gorgeous. Extras include a trailer and a commentary track.

It's also had a VHS release.

THE NARROW MARGIN can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available on the TCM website.

TCM also has a brief featurette with director Richard Fleischer, as well as Ben Mankiewicz's intro which preceded the film airing on TCM earlier this month.

April 2013 Update: I had the great pleasure of seeing Jacqueline White at a screening of this film at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

April 2014 Update: I saw this wonderful film again at a memorial tribute for the film's producer, Stanley Rubin.

3 Comments:

Blogger Missy said...

I saw this movie years ago right after watching the Gene Hackman remake. It's interesting watching both close together and seeing what changes were made to keep it fresh and different.

I re-watched the tail-end of the original on TCM a few days ago.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Did you like the remake? I sure enjoyed watching this last night.

Have you seen THE TALL TARGET? The setting is very different (1860s) but if you like THE NARROW MARGIN I bet you'd like it too. Two great train movies!

Best wishes,
Laura

11:22 AM  
Blogger Missy said...

I don't think I've watched THE TALL TARGET. Maybe I would recognize it if I saw it.

When I first saw the remake of NARROW MARGIN, I liked it. I actually saw it first, then the original. It makes both little and big changes, so you can be surprised while watching it. We did think Hackman played his character a little smug. Seems like I saw a bit of the remake recently and didn't like it as much, but it was on TV with commercials and it was only a bit from the middle...so probably not a fair judgment.

6:33 PM  

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