The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin (1952), directed by Richard Fleischer.

Two hard-bitten LA police detectives are to escort a hostile mob widow back to the city to testify in court. When one of the men is killed our remaining detective is on his own with her on a long train ride with nowhere to run, protecting her from the killers as best he can.

Further: she is testifying about a payoff list implicating police and other officials. Who can Detective Sergeant Brown trust, and might his own people be setting traps for him? Hell is a low-trust environment.

This well-regarded film noir B picture runs at an efficient 71 minutes. The dark, stark apartment buildings and city streets are well-known, but we have new realms of claustrophobia and suspicion in the cramped, modern train interiors.

In a lovely menacing scene at the apartment, a string of pearls breaks and we follow then down to the floor below, to the feet of a man standing in shadow. A man waiting with a gun.

The train photography is not quite as compelling, although the ghostly vision of a sinister car pacing the train on the highway is good.

Gruff Charles McGraw doesn't usually do comedy, but here he has to clown a bit to distract some passengers. I don't understand one point: sending a telegram back to LA he crosses out one name of his suspects; was that the man who offered him a bribe?

I read somewhere that Marie Windsor had been a Vargas model, but I can't find confirmation or drawings.

No musical score. Remade in 1990 by Peter Hyams with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer.

Available on DVD. William Friedkin's commentary track is part Film Noir 101, part narrating what's on the screen and stating the obvious, and part valuable insight and appreciation.