This past summer, my buddy Kelly Greene and I watched and enjoyed THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), a first rate film noir directed by Richard Fleischer, starring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor. I reviewed the film here on my blog and remarked at the time that there was a 1990 remake of the film that I had not seen.
Well, I've seen it now and I'm here to tell you that director Peter Hyams is no Richard Fleischer and Anne Archer, although attractive, is no Marie Windsor. And Gene Hackman, who is one of my favorite actors, can't match the square-jawed, blunt toughness of Charles McGraw. In short, the 1990 version is a pale reflection of the original 1952 masterpiece.
The new version has Carol Hunnicut (Archer), witnessing a murder at the beginning of the film. Instead of going to the police, she flees Los Angeles for a remote cabin in Canada. Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield (Hackman), learns that Carol is a witness to the crime and journeys to Canada, along with police detective Dominick Benti (M. Emmet Walsh), to find her and bring her back to testify.
Things go wrong, of course. Benti is killed and Caulfield and Carol are forced to go on the run from a pair of killers. Their only way out is by train. They board a westbound liner (as do the hit men) and thus begins an on board game of cat and mouse while the train speeds through the Canadian wilderness.
Unlike the original version, there's no major plot twist involving a woman on the train, although there is a secondary plot twist involving another woman on the train. I don't want to say anything more for those who haven't seen either version but suffice it to say, the plot twist is a major narrative development in the original, while in the remake it just seems to be a cheap, third act "gotcha."
The big, climatic action set piece finds Caulfield and Carol battling bad guys on the roof of the train. It's well staged but you can spot the stunt doubles in the long shots. Speaking of action, earlier in the film, Caulfield and Carol try to escape the killers by driving a jeep off road and through the forest. Look closely for the "now it's broken, now it's not" windshield which comes and goes throughout the sequence.
If you've never seen the original, the 1990 version is a serviceable, minor thriller. The leads are good, the scenery is breathtaking and the action scenes are well staged. But it can't hold a candle to the original in terms of hard boiled dialogue, gritty, tough characters, a claustrophobic atmosphere and a "didn't see it coming" plot twist.
If you must watch a movie entitled NARROW MARGIN, stick with the 1952 version.