Caught The Narrow Margin on TCM this week. Really good!
Great dialogue includes: “You make me sick to my stomach!” “Well, don’t use my sink.”
Too bad the film is largely forgotten today, because not only is it a first-rate example of the post-war film noir genre, it also takes place almost entirely on a train. Director Richard Fleischer exploits the narrow corridors and cramped compartments to maximum effect, heightening the sense of claustrophobia and the paranoia of being trapped without an exit. What’s more, Fleischer uses the sound of the moving train continuously in the background which generates a certain driving tension. The train interiors were all shot on an RKO soundstage while exterior station scenes were lensed in Los Angeles’ Union Station; all in an amazingly short 15-day schedule.
The Narrow Margin is generally considered a “model” B picture; some film buffs go farther than that, labelling this 1952 RKO suspenser as the best low-budget studio production ever made.
Clocking in at a lean 71minutes, there isn’t a trace of gristle in this thriller that’s as juicy and satisfying as a thick sirloin steak. Fleischer made a beautiful looking film with near perfect lighting and camera work. The latter aspect comes into play in many scenes but especially the fantastic fist fight between Kemp and Brown in a train washroom. Using a handheld camera (unusual for the time and especially fist fights), the principle actors, low angles and tight shots, make for an amazingly gritty scene of fisticuffs in such a confined, ‘narrow’ space. Fleischer expertly plays with the claustrophobic and restricted space of the train throughout the film and as the tension increases, the shots seem to get tighter and tighter. Another extraordinary aspect and bold choice on Fleischer’s part is the omission of a music soundtrack. In place of a score, Fleischer prominently features the sounds of the train and its workings to audibly add to the mood. From the loud banging together of boxcars forewarning gunplay, to a nice sound match scene transition between Windsor nervously filing her nails and the wheels of the train rhythmically churning, the film is full of these interesting plays of sound and story.
If you missed it, you can watch it on your computer HERE.