When a mobster's widow decides to testify and provide names of others involved in evil deeds, she goes undercover to avoid being killed. Onboard a train going cross-country, she's being escorted in order to testify. Cop Walter Brown and his partner are assigned the task, but the mob are on their trail, attempting to make sure she never reaches her destination.Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"She's the one for that bullet--not me!" - Night train West---carrying two mystery women. The secret of one can blast the crime syndicate wide open---and the key killers dare not let it happen! See more »
No New York nor Los Angeles - just the claustrophobic halls of a train
The milieus, landscapes and aesthetics of film-noir were often related to big cities and cold streets. In The Narrow Margin directed by Richard Fleischer the story is taken to train and the narrow halls of it, which perfectly furthers the compact feeling of the film. The film is very well directed and the exquisite cinematography of it reminded me of the classic The Lady Vanishes (1938) by Alfred Hitchcock, which also takes place in a train. This brief 75-minute long ride offers some really sharp noir-dialog and exciting twists till the last minute. When a mob boss dies, a police officer gets a job to escort the boss' wife from Chicago to LA to a trial. The task gets a little harder when a suspicious group of crooks join the train and are willing to do anything with regards to prevent the arrival of the woman to the trial.
Los Angeles and New York were often the big cities of film-noir, but even if big cities had a lot to do with the aesthetics of film-noir it doesn't mean that anyone didn't have the guts to try something else. Many tried to transfer the pattern of film-noir to new milieus. Nicholas Ray tried a snowy small town village in On Dangerous Ground (1953) and Ida Lupino brought film-noir to the seats of a car and deserts of Mexico in The Hitch-Hicker (1953) just to mention a few. The claustrophobic space Richard Fleischer chose in The Narrow Margin works brilliantly and the thrilling scenes are directed with care.
Many have realized what a great place a train is for excitement, murder and paranoia. As mentioned before Alfred Hitchcock made The Lady Vanishes, but he also used train as a place of suspense in Shadow of a Doubt (1943), North by Northwest (1959) and Strangers on a Train (1951). Of course when talking about trains and cinema one cannot forget the Buster Keaton masterpiece The General (1926). Train means both getting away and letting go, which is highlighted in the masterful melodrama Brief Encounter (1945) by David Lean where the motive is taken of a superior level when trains and railways turn into symbolism. The narrow margin of a train is of course quite metaphorical to the story in The Narrow Margin, but also in all the thrillers mentioned by Alfred Hitchcock. In The Narrow Margin the police officer faces challenges so tough that he is not sure can he make it through. His margin is getting more narrow and narrow, inch by inch.
The name of Richard Fleischer might not ring a bell for all of the readers so I think it's quite alright to reminds you for some of his works. He started as a b-class director but with the help of The Narrow Margin he rose to the A-class and the film even got an Oscar nomination for best writing. Before it he had already made a few film-noir such as Bodyguard (1948) and Armored Car Robbery (1950), which unfortunately are part of his 'b-class era'. But on the other hand they're still quite interesting and excellent in their on league. Nowdays Fleischer is probably more known for directing the two fantasy action movies Red Sonja (1985) and Conan The Destroyer (1984).
The Narrow Margin has its unintentional humor and clumsiness but overall it stands out as a fine piece of film-noir. It offers some excellent dialog and twists that will keep the interest of the audience till the last minute. I think the power of The Narrow Margin is in its story charged with compact emotion, the lack of film-noir clichés, the cinematography and the construction of state in the narrow halls of the train.
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