Films of the Week | 14th February 2022
Classic: taut, short and gripping, shot in thirteen days, Narrow Margin (1952) is one of the best Train Movies, claustrophobic, unsentimental, as granitic as Charles McGraw’s jaw, and with enough twists to fill a much longer film. Director Richard Fleischer* ended up shovelling Hollywood A-film gold into steaming heaps, but he pulls off this B film triumphantly: hard-boiled dialogue, threatening reflections, the blackest of black shadows, shuddering close-ups, and fast moving all the way through. It was RKO’s biggest money-maker of 1952, and it launched Richard Fleischer into an A film career. This is B-film noir at its best.
Hand-held camera is used for one of the first times in Hollywood film. Apart from a few seconds of the arrival in Los Angeles, everything was filmed in the studio, the camera shaking inside stationary carriage interiors to make it look as if the train was moving. It works.
There is no soundtrack as such, and the only music in the film comes from a radio and a phonograph**.
RKO was the Hollywood studio owned by Howard Hughes. Hughes had heard good things about the film and asked for it to be sent to him. He fiddled with it, wanted to reshoot all the scenes with Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, cut out a scene that referred to police corruption, and then forgot about it. The film was released, more or less intact, two years late.
Best wishes. Bill.
*Richard Fleischer was the son of Max Fleischer, second in importance only to Walt Disney as a film animator.
**Following the academic trend of making everything as obscure as possible, if the characters in the film can (or could) hear the music the audience hears, then that music is called diegetic. It is also called source music by professionals in the industry. What most of us call ‘the soundtrack’ is, therefore, non-diegetic.