Friday, July 8, 2011

The Narrow Margin (1952)

Fun but flawed


- The 1952 RKO film noir The Narrow Margin, with a cool visual style and good performances, is a good film overall but its story is not very logical.

The film begins with Detectives Brown and Forbes meeting up with Mrs. Neall, the wife of a notorious gangster and prime witness in a related case, to protect her on the train ride from Chicago to Los Angles. Things do not go as smoothly as planned however, with Forbes getting shot and Brown being identified by those out to get Mrs. Neall. Brown has to now go it alone in protecting Mrs. Neall from a train full of vicious mobsters.

But instead of thinking smart by just sitting in Mrs. Neall's train car with a Tommy Gun pointed at the door, Brown runs all over the train to keep track of the bad guys. After about forty-five minutes of that, we come to the film's "twist" - which pays off in copper rather than gold.

Mrs. Neall turns out to not be Mrs. Neall but an undercover police officer who is acting as a decoy. But for a decoy, she sure wants to get caught, playing her music loud when they are trying to make the mobsters think that "Mrs. Neall" is not on board. The real Mrs. Neall is actually some cute dame that Detective Brown just happened to bump into on the train - and, go figure, fall for. Unknown to Brown, she is traveling in a separate room so that the police department can find out if he would take a bribe. Wow, that is some great police work. Put the lives of your officers, a prime-witness in an important case, and innocent civilians at risk just to test one of your veteran cops - good idea.

Still, while the story fails the film, there are other good aspects to The Narrow Margin. Under Richard Fleischer's class-A direction, The Narrow Margin has a swift pace and crisp look complete with some dark shots early on and a claustrophobic feel aboard the train.

The performances are pretty good as well. Charles McGraw is real good as the tough and honest Detective Brown, although overacts in a few scenes requiring quick spouts of emotion. Jacqueline White brightens up this little noir, giving a sweet and delightful performance as Ann Sinclair, discovered later to be the real Mrs. Neall. Peter Brocco gives a good yet bizarrely uncredited performance as Vincent Yost - real slimy in an Eamon de Valera sort of way. Mary Winsor steals the show however as the sexy and sassy Mrs. Neall, discovered later to be an undercover police officer.

The story might bring the film down a few pegs but The Narrow Margin is still an enjoyable and mostly well-made film noir - definitely recommendable for classic film fans.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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