Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin (1952) is a superbly potent, if overly short (at 71 minutes), noir classic. It stars Marie Windsor as the venomous, Mrs. Frankie Neill…or is she? Seems Frankie is a mobster with a penchant for murder and other unscrupulous crimes too numerous and unbearable to ignore.
Relying on police sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw), Mrs. Neill enters a witness protection program. However, while awaiting trial she becomes the subject of elimination by a group of hit men loyal to her husband. After a harrowing escape, Brown and Neill find themselves on a train with danger stalking them at every turn. There only hope – survive being assassinated until the train comes to a stop.
Tightly scripted the tale is pensively entertaining with a sense of immediacy rarely caught on film. There is a genuine chemistry between Neill and Brown and Brown and mystery woman, Ann Sinclair (Jacqueline White). So how does she fit into this tale? That is a plot device best left absent from this review.
Aside: In 1990, director Peter Hyams remade this film as simply, Narrow Margin with Gene Hackman and Ann Archer. Although Hyam’s movie is one of those rare occasions where the remake is as good as the original, is there any point in having a remake when the original has been done so well?
Warner Home Video’s DVD is impressive. The B&W image is solid with very deep blacks, clean whites and a minimal amount of film grain. The image is nicely contrasted and very sharp throughout, beautifully capturing the evocative noir lighting. Occasionally, age related artifacts crop up but these do not distract. There are no digital anomalies. The audio is mono and well represented. An audio commentary is the only worthwhile extra. Highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)