My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched THE NARROW MARGIN (1952) yesterday. I've seen this film several times and I never get tired of it. It's one of my all-time favorite film noirs.
Detective Sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) of the LA. police department must escort the widow of a deceased mob boss Chicago to Los Angeles via train. The woman, Mrs. Frankie Neall (Marie Windsor), is supposed to testify before a grand jury. She also has in her possession a "payoff list" that both the police and the mob want.
Mobsters board the train in Chicago, along with Brown and Mrs. Neall and thus begins a tense game of cat and mouse aboard the speeding train. Brown encounters an attractive young woman, Ann Sinclair (Jacqueline White) who is traveling with your young son and an older woman. The hoods mistake her for Mrs Neall, and Brown is forced to try and protect both women from jeopardy. To say any more would spoil a terrific third act plot twist.
The Oscar nominated screenplay by Earl Felton( from a story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard), is loaded with terse, hard-boiled dialogue like this:
Brown: "You make me want to throw up"
Mrs. Neall: "Well do it in your own sink!"
Director Richard Fleischer was no stranger to film noir. His previous noirs include BODYGUARD (1948), THE CLAY PIGEON (1949), FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950). He does a terrific job here, skillfully handling the action and characters. Many scenes on the train are shot from an extreme low angle which serves to accentuate the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment the characters feel. Things move at a good clip and there's absolutely no fat in this 71 minutes long thriller. Every scene, every line of dialogue, is in service to the story and it's an incredibly tight, suspenseful film.
Gravel voiced genre icon Charles McGraw is at his absolute tough guy best here. With his trench coat, fedora, chiseled features, snub nosed .38 and two-pack-a-day voice, McGraw is the living embodiment of legendary comic strip detective Dick Tracy. He would have been perfect in that part. Dark haired beauty Marie Windsor is also terrific as the mobster's widow. She's full of piss and vinegar and she gives as good as she gets in the running verbal sparring match with McGraw.
THE NARROW MARGIN was remade in 1990 by director Peter Hyams with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer. I've never seen that version but I can 't imagine that it could possibly be any better than the original. Gene Hackman is a good actor, one whose work I admire and enjoy but he's no Charles McGraw.
If you're a film noir fan, you've most likely seen THE NARROW MARGIN. If you're new to noir, or just want to see a really good little movie, check it out. Highly recommended.