The Narrow Margin (1952) Hit Men, Tough Cop, Gangsters Widow & A Fat Man All On A Train.

The Narrow Margin (1952) Charles McGraw Marie Windsor Jacqueline White film noir poster

This film noir takes Charles McGraw on a thrilling and dangerous train journey across America. This review is for The Narrow Margin (1952)

What’s going down?

A big mob boss’s widow is due to testify before a grand jury with a payoff list that belonged to her murdered husband. The Los Angeles Police Department have assigned their top man, Detective Sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw). He has to safely transport her from Chicago to the Los Angeles Law Court in one piece.  Not an easy job for the tough and gruff Detective Brown as his assignment, Frankie Neall (Marie Windsor), is one feisty piece with a big mouth. Within the confines of the cars and carriages of the train lurk gangsters and hit-men ready to strike at given moment. Everyone looks guilty.

The Narrow Margin (1952) Charles McGraw smoking train smoke steam station noir

The main players

Charles McGraw – Det. Sgt. Walter Brown
Marie Windsor – Mrs. Frankie Neall
Jacqueline White – Ann Sinclair
Peter Virgo – Densel
Gordon Gebert – Tommy Sinclair
David Clarke – Joseph Kemp
Paul Maxey – Sam Jennings

Tagline – A Fortune If They Seal Her Lips!…A Bullet If They Fail!

The Narrow Margin (1952) Charles McGraw Marie Windsor cop and gangsters on a train

Sure I’ve seen them in something?

Charles McGraw really has one of those grizzled looking faces that could fit anything from a tough city cop to a stony faced gangster. He has a certain if Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum had a kid look to him. He’s been in many films from In Cold Blood (1967), Hang Em High (1968), Side Street (1950) and T-Men (1947) to name a few. I’m ashamed to say there’s lots of others I’ve seen but never knew it was him. Always learning.

Marie Windsor has a tough demeanor and a sultry dangerous sexiness to her. She’s especially feisty in her lacy dress and cuts deep whilst firing off her razor tongued quips. I only know her from two other films. Edward Dmytryk’s superb The Sniper (1952) and Stanley Kubrick’s film noir masterpiece The Killing (1956)

The Narrow Margin ended up being Jacqueline White’s last film but wait, she’s still going well into her late 90s. Looks like she retired from acting straight after this film however you can see her in Crossfire (1947) with Gloria Grahame, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan.

Feel free to help a brother out and recommend away to me in the comments for films from the cast members.

The Narrow Margin (1952) Charles McGraw tough chicago cop

Notes on production?

The Narrow Margin is directed by the film machine Richard Fleischer. He has a crazy selection of superb films under his belt from the likes of Fantastic Voyage (1966) Soylent Green (1973) 10 Rillington Place (1971) Mr. Majestyk (1974) and Violent Saturday (1955). He also worked with Charles McGraw before The Narrow Margin with Armored Car Robbery (1950). And how could I nearly leave out his masterpiece……Yep he made Red Sonja (1985) with big buxom barbarian, Brigitte Nielsen.

Story has it that RKO Pictures owner Howard Hughes watched and loved the picture but frustratingly thought the film could be improved with different actors? He set aside the idea in motion for all the scenes featuring Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor to be removed, re-shot and replaced with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. The film sat on the shelves for a few years before being released, luckily with no changes.

The Narrow Margin was remade in 1990 starring Gene Hackman and Anne Archer. I haven’t seen it but I do fancy giving it a go knowing full well it will be inferior. Seeing an image of them both walking on the moving train roof doesn’t fill me with excitement to see it!

Hits like a sledge hammer

The anxious Det. Sgt. Walter Brown shows he’s out of his depth in the small dangerous space with his dangerous mission. The demanding gangsters wife constant banter is brilliant as they take stabs at each other. “In the morning they’d be fishing you out the Chicago river!

The opening pick-up corridor scene is pretty tense within the shadows. Plus there’s a smashing fist fight inside the confined space of a gents toilet. And another with a tummy being used as a punching bag.

The Narrow Margin (1952) Charles McGraw Marie Windsor cop and gangsters widow

Cutting remarks

She’s a 60-cent special. Cheap, flashy, and strictly poison under the gravy.
What’re you gonna do, go out and shoot us some breakfast?
This train’s headed straight for the cemetery.
I’m gonna be spending the rest of my life dodging bullet, if I’m lucky!
You make me sick to my stomach
Nobody loves a fat man except his grocer and his tailor!


The Narrow Margin is a short sharp blast of thrilling noir drama. The dialogue is tough, interesting and to the point. The interior of the train carriages are utilised well for the lack of space. The introduction of a fat man to squeeze in the cramped corridor. “Like I always say, nobody loves a fat man haha“. This B-movie is as near to A class as you can get for the budget. The frantic twists and turns fit excitingly into the fast run-time. It’s very recommended.

You know what if it wasn’t for one thing it would of hit the Wolfie top mark meter.  TMC Noir Alley Eddie Muller picks up on some that in his “after” words. BE WARNED don’t watch this clip if you haven’t seen the film. Massive spoilers here.

Rating score

Wolfman’s rating 9/10       IMDB 7.7/10

Feel free to recommend me related movies and any other trivia if you wish. Keep having fun at the movies…. Mikey Wolf

25 thoughts on “The Narrow Margin (1952) Hit Men, Tough Cop, Gangsters Widow & A Fat Man All On A Train.

  1. I just watched this again the other night. It’s really top of the line. So much better than the remake with Gene Hackman (though that one’s not bad either.) The way Fliesher utilizes a tight budget. He ballsy with the running time. Only 71 minutes! Then he taps into claustrophobia as an element of suspense and plays it to the hilt. Brilliant!
    Great write up, Mikey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pam. First up sorry for the late reply! But more important, it’s great to see you back popping up on the wordpress feed. Hope you are well and doing fine?
      Oh and I will get to your new posts soon but as you know it’s hard to catch up sometimes when you’ve been blessed with a ton of nice comments. Right that’s out the way.

      On your comment I made sure I watched the Gene version one at the weekend. Yeah you so right, it was pretty great entertainment tbf. And apart from the plentiful homages to the original it dotted through-out I thought it was far enough removed to be it’s own film. It didn’t go for any major twists and was a pretty decent little thriller.

      You got it spot on Pam. 71 minutes of claustrophobic tension and suspense. And with the cherry on the top, the wonderful Marie Windsor just smashing it right out the park.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the great Noir’s complimented by not having a “big” star as McGraw is the rock solid everyman. I love this guy and check out my published article to get some solid leads on more of his titles. Spartacus opposite Douglas a real treat. If you get the chance locate the book Just Tell Me When to Cry by Richard Fleischer. Hell of a fun read on his directing career.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes that’s a great spotlight you did on Charles. Not long after we hooked up on wordpress. Reading back our comments you had steered me on to Twilight’s Last Gleaming.
      Thanks for the tip on the book. I’m off for a look right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Man oh man, this is one cool noir! One of my faves, and probably a Top 5 noir for me. When I introduce people to film noir, this is one (along with Double Indemnity) that I show them. Love Charles McGraw…he’s done some cool noir films, including ‘Armored Car Robbery’, ‘Roadblock’, and ‘Border Incident’. And if you want to see Marie Windsor at her noir best, watch her and her interactions with Elisha Cook Jr in ‘The Killing’

    And I checked out that Eddie Muller link…good lord, so many things about the film I didn’t know! That bit about Howard Hughes is ridiculous…thank heavens he never followed through on it! Nice review, Mikey, and glad you got to see it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You had put me on to this bad boy last year. And I’m so very grateful for that Todd. I watched it then and was determined to do a post on it back then but it kept getting pushed back.. It’s a film that’s hard to write about without giving anything away. With this “new”format I’m using for certain film reviews I found it easy to skirt round the spoils.

      So for the post I watched the movie again and enjoyed it just as much, maybe more.
      Armored Car Robbery is another I’ve seen and loved but would love to do a post but… time.
      Roadblock added to the find list and I have Border Incident but still not got to it yet.
      The Killing is bonkers brilliant and in much need of another watch. That was the first time I had seen “the put down” queen Marie Windsor. She’s so awesome but I’m glad I’m not on the wrong side of that tongue.

      The Howard Hughes revelation is unbelievable. So scary to think that seeing that film like that was on a tenterhook. Of course the bigger stars could of pulled off a great film but it wouldn’t of had the same engine as this.


  4. I’m officially following your blog. I love this stuff. Often, I’m the only one viewing it as my girlfriend is very finicky. She prefers new movies, as she puts it. Anyway, good stuff. I’ll keep checking in.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds great. Your reviews always make me feel like I’ve seen the movie already.
    Hubby LOVES Fantastic Voyage. We just saw it again like two weeks ago! He marvels at the effects–you know, pre-CGI days, of course.
    I wonder why Jacqueline W. left Hollywood? I mean, I can IMAGINE why, but it’s always interesting when people just drop out completely and never come back. Which is probably very wise.
    That sentence: “I’m gonna be spending the rest of my life dodging bullets if I’m lucky,” reminds me of one of the best lines in Mystery Men when Janeanne Garafalo is talking about how her father died: “He fell down an elevator shaft.
    Onto some bullets.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for late reply.
      Your hubby has a great tastes with Fantastic Voyage. Yeah the effects are insane though I have a sneaky feeling he might be there for a certain beautiful angel like sweetheart…. Oh what’s their name?…… Oh that’s it, Donald Pleasence! tee hee.
      Oh my! there’s another? Another Mystery Men fan out there! It’s one of my favorites and have watched it so many times. I’ve met people who have seen it. Like it? Quote it? Never. I love that line. The whole Dad’s head in a bowling ball is so brilliant.

      My kids are completely sick of my quotes from the film and I use my fav, at every dinner event, always until I die and hopefully they will feel burdened and compelled to carry it on.
      The Blue Raja “I didn’t expect to see you so *spoon*”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The 1990 remake is indeed inferior. Not bad (Gene Hackman is always watchable), but not great either. Anyhow, I saw the remake first so the “twist” wasn’t a surprise. 😦 BTW, McGraw’s best is probably Born to Kill (1947), one of my fav noirs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Born to Kill just gone straight on the watch list and bumped up the list. Can’t wait. Thanks for that EB
      I got to watch the Gene one at the weekend. Yeah it was pretty great entertainment tbf. And apart from the plentiful homages to the original I thought it was far enough removed to be it’s own film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oops! Lawrence Tierney is in Born to Kill, not Charles McGraw! LOL! I tend to confuse them! In my defense, they are both badasses. 😉 Anyhow, I’m 100% sure you’ll love Born to Kill!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dude no problem at all. I do it all the time. I’ve seen the poster before and I noted to myself that the smoking man looked like Ben Affleck! in the drawing. If I can find it to watch now, I’m gonna 🙂

          BTW I need to up my game on Lawrence Tierney films! Never realised he was Joe in Reservoir Dogs!!!

          Liked by 1 person

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