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 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!
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.
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.
“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.
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