The Narrow Margin

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The Narrow Margin
Narrow-margin-poster.jpg
Theater release poster
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Stanley Rubin
Screenplay by Earl Felton
Story by Martin Goldsmith
Jack Leonard
Starring Charles McGraw
Marie Windsor
Jacqueline White
Cinematography George E. Diskant
Edited by Robert Swink
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release dates
  • May 2, 1952 (1952-05-02) (US)[1]
Running time 71 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $230,000[2]

The Narrow Margin is a 1952 American film noir directed by Richard Fleischer and written by Earl Felton, based on an unpublished story written by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard. The screenplay by Earl Felton was nominated for an Academy Award.[3]

The picture stars Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White. It was released by RKO Radio Pictures. A police detective plays a deadly game of cat-and-mouse aboard a train with mob assassins out to stop a slain gangster's widow before she can testify before a grand jury.

The Narrow Margin (1952) was remade under the same title in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer.[4]

Plot[edit]

Detective Sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) of the Los Angeles Police Department and his partner are assigned to protect a mob boss's widow, Mrs. Frankie Neall (Marie Windsor), as she rides a train from Chicago to Los Angeles to testify before a grand jury. She is also carrying a payoff list that belonged to her murdered husband. On the way to pick her up, Brown bets his partner and friend, Sergeant Gus Forbes (Don Beddoe), what she will be like: "She's the sixty cent special. Cheap. Flashy. Strictly poison under the gravy."

As the detectives and Mrs. Neall leave her apartment, they are waylaid by a mob assassin named Densel (Peter Virgo). Forbes is shot to death, but Densel, although wounded by Brown, escapes. At the train station, Brown discovers that he has been followed by gangsters Joseph Kemp (David Clarke) and Vincent Yost (Peter Brocco). The latter meets him on the train and unsuccessfully tries to bribe him.

Brown's relationship with Mrs. Neall is caustic. She is a cynical and flashy brunette, who flirts with him while expressing doubt about his integrity and commitment to protecting her. By chance Brown makes friends with an attractive blonde train passenger he meets, Ann Sinclair (Jacqueline White), and her too-observant young son Tommy (Gordon Gebbert). When Kemp spots Brown with her, he mistakes Sinclair for his target. After Brown beats him up in a fight and questions him, the policeman learns of the mistake. He turns Kemp over to railroad agent Sam Jennings (Paul Maxey) and hurries to warn Ann. Densel, however, has boarded the train during a brief stop at La Junta, Colorado, and waylays Jennings, freeing Kemp.

When Brown tries to warn Ann that she is in danger, she reveals that she is the real Mrs. Neall. The other woman is an undercover policewoman, and Brown was not told in case he might be corrupt. Densel and Kemp enter Brown's compartment to search for the list and discover the fake Mrs. Neall in the next compartment. Densel shoots her dead as she reaches for her gun. Then Kemp discovers her police identification.

Densel, deducing the truth, goes for Ann. He is cornered in the compartment with her, with Brown outside. Brown uses the reflection from the window of a train on the next track to shoot Densel through the door without endangering Ann, then enters the compartment and finishes him off in a shootout. Kemp jumps off the stopped train, but is quickly arrested. Brown escorts Ann from the Los Angeles train station to the grand jury.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The film is considered by critics and film historians to be a classic example of the film noir genre. It was well received at the time it was made as a model "B" movie.

According to a review in The New York Times,

"Using a small cast of comparative unknowns, headed by Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White, this inexpensive Stanley Rubin production for R. K. O. is almost a model of electric tension that, at least technically, nudges some of the screen's thriller milestones. Crisply performed and written and directed by Earl Felton and Richard Fleischer with tingling economy, this unpretentious offering should glue anyone to the edge of his seat and prove, once and for all, that a little can be made to count for a lot."[5]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz said, "A breathtakingly suspenseful low-budget crime thriller that is flawlessly directed ... The fast-paced pulpish taut story is filled with tense incidents and a well-executed twist ...[3]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 84% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 8 reviews.[6]

Noir analysis[edit]

Film critic Blake Lucas makes the case that The Narrow Margin reflects the "noir view" of an unstable and deceiving moral reality."[7]

Award nomination[edit]

Adaptation[edit]

The film was remade as Narrow Margin with Anne Archer and Gene Hackman in 1990. It was directed by Peter Hyams. While Hackman's performance was praised, it is generally considered a lesser work compared to the original.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Narrow Margin: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  2. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p268
  3. ^ a b Schwartz, Dennis. "Ozus' World Movie Reviews," 22 January 2005. Last accessed: November 23, 2009.
  4. ^ "The Narrow Margin", Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
  5. ^ The New York Times, film review, May 5, 1952. Last accessed: January 22, 2008.
  6. ^ Narrow Margin at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 25, 2011.
  7. ^ Silver, Alain, and Elizabeth Ward, eds. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, p. 198, 3rd edition, 1992. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, ISBN 0-87951-479-5.

External links[edit]