Review: The Narrow Margin (1952)

Posted by Wade Sheeler March 6, 2013 3 Comments 5751 views

The Narrow Margin airs on TCM Friday March 8, 2013. Check local listings for time.

The Narrow Margin is one of the great film noirs that takes giddy joy in reveling in its genre. From the very opening title sequence, it brazenly telegraphs exactly what you’re about to enjoy. Made on a paltry (even by 1952 standards) $200,000, it is a film school lesson in stark, barebones filmmaking that exploits its one location -the train – and exercises its director Richard Fleischer’s skills by challenging him to use every aspect and nuance of this main set piece.

What do think of The Narrow Margin? Tell us in the comments!

As with the best noirs, nothing is as it seems. So we take this journey alongside our characters and willingly suspend any disbelief for the duration. Within the strong story’s foundation of a no-nonsense police detective (a perfect Charles McGraw) escorting a witness to a murder (Marie Windsor) on her way to testify against a crime lord, we are joined by three hired killers who don’t know what the witness looks like. Thus the cat-and-mouse begins. If this story took to the streets, it would follow the pattern of most “chase” crime thrillers, but it’s  from the claustrophobic nature of the train that Fleischer draws his inspiration.

The churning train engine noise and clackety train tracks run continually under the scenes. The frame is always crammed with low ceilinged, tight walled compartments, as passengers squeeze past one another. The camera is a character as well, pushing through or giving way to people moving past. You can feel the sweat, the heat, the stink of these desperate people scrambling to get from one place to the next.

To give away more of the plot would only take a little away from the joys inherent to the film. But even for those who have seen The Narrow Margin before, knowing what comes next doesn’t detract from the richness of the performances and storytelling.

One of my favorite noirs -The Narrow Margin is one of those DVDs I throw in the player more than I’d like to admit. I always find something new to draw from it, whether it’s the author’s tip of the hat to HUAC’s witch trials, (does McGraw turn stool pigeon and save his neck?) or the fear of an imminent attack from foreign invaders (who are the bad guys really?), or the confusion and loathing of an unrecognizable America post WWII, The Narrow Margin’s taut script, riveting performances, and labyrinthine and claustrophobic cinematography will stay in your head long after the credits have rolled.

Gallery of Images from The Narrow Margin

Watch the Trailer for The Narrow Margin

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What do think of The Narrow Margin? Tell us in the comments!

About Wade Sheeler

TV Producer & Director, Writer, Frustrated lover of film and obscure music. I still make mixed tapes if I like you enough.

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There are 3 Comments

  1. - March 9, 2013
      -   Reply

    SUCH a great movie! I have to get this on DVD, too.

  2. - March 9, 2013
      -   Reply

    So glad you liked it! I’m a Noir Nut, but this one really sets the bar.

  3. George Pappas
    - January 9, 2014
      -   Reply

    One of my favorite exchanges of dialogue in any movie, between McGraw and Windsor: “You make me sick to my stomach”. “Use the sink”.

    I L-O-V-E The Narrow Margin!

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