The Narrow Margin (1952)

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Lean, sometimes tense and always enjoyable, The Narrow Margin may not have the impact of many other movies from director Richard Fleischer, but it’s just as deserving of your time, especially if you enjoy some film noir that isn’t afraid to let some light shine around the edges and have some humour in the mix.

Charles McGraw stars as Detective Sergeant Walter Brown, a man who is tasked, along with his partner (Don Beddoe), to protect a mob boss’s widow as she travels from Chicago to Los Angeles by train to testify before a grand jury. Once aboard the train, it becomes clear to Brown that a number of dangerous men are also travelling along with them. Despite the lack of co-operation from the woman he is trying to protect, Brown must do all he can to confuse the men and delay them until the train reaches its destination.

Clocking in at just over seventy minutes, Richard Fleischer directs this movie at a brisk pace, infusing every scene with enough sparks and energy to make up for the potential claustrophobia of the setting (the majority of the film is, as you may have gathered, set on that train). He’s helped by the script by Earl Felton, from an unpublished story written by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard, that alternates between oozing cool one minute and edging towards goofy the next. I kept suspecting that the rhythm of the movie shouldn’t work, but it does.

McGraw is great in the lead role, all business when he needs to be and clumsily charming when he finds himself unexpectedly in the company of another woman (Jacqueline White) he finds himself warming to, as opposed to the abrasive and stubborn woman (Marie Windsor) he is trying to keep safe. Don Beddoe, young Gordon Gebert, Queenie Leonard, David Clarke, Peter Virgo, Paul Maxey and Harry Harvey are all decent enough, playing a mixture of heroes and villains and, of course, people who could be heroes pretending to be villains, or even villains masquerading as heroes.

The Narrow Margin is a fun film. It may seem too light to serious fans of film noir (sadly, I really need to pull my finger out and see more examples before I can comment with more authority), but it has the requisite thrills, twists and cool dialogue to make it at least worth a one-time watch.

The Narrow Margin was shown on Sun 30 June at The Filmhouse as part of a Richard Fleischer retrospective at EIFF 2013

DIRECTOR: RICHARD FLEISCHER
WRITER: EARL FELTON
STARS: CHARLES MCGRAW, MARIE WINDSOR, JACQUELINE WHITE, GORDON GEBERT, QUEENIE LEONARD, DAVID CLARKE, PETER VIRGO, DON BEDDOE, PAUL MAXEY, HARRY HARVEY
RUNTIME: 71 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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