A very enjoyable B thriller from a crew with strong film noir credentials. Director, Richard Fleischer, is ably supported by cameraman, George E. Diskant, and the movie features a strong cast of b-liners, with the tough Charles McGraw and the exciting Marie Windsor in the leads. A nice plot twist propels the tension to the end. From the dramatic opening credits of a train screeching through the night, The Narrow Margin, has you hooked.
One of the best on-a-train thrillers, this movie starts off in noir mood but develops into a smart thriller with few noir pretensions. The direction is sharp, the dialog snappy, and the cast top-notch. The early night scenes before the action switches to a train trip from Chicago to LA, are brilliantly filmed and edited, with stark lighting and shadows, and low angles.
On the train, tension is heightened by judicious cuts to the steaming train running aggressively from right to left across the screen. There is a nice piece of montage worthy of Eisenstein half-way through the trip which gives a cut to the train even added tension: the action cuts from Marie Windsor frantically filing her nails to the churning wheels of the steam engine.
For me this film is all about Marie Windsor as the dame in trouble scrapping with her cop protector. She dominates every scene with her aura of sex, excitement, and nervous fear. Her great lines are delivered flawlessly with great rolling of her incendiary eyes and almost always with a cigarette in her mouth or hand. You don’t want this vixen to leave the screen.
She is brutally bumped off towards the end, and to my exasperation is never alluded to again. This cheapens the rest of the story for me, because she is the one character who is exposed to the most danger, and merits the greatest kudos. To be simply forgotten is almost misogynistic.
This weakness aside, the closing scenes are classic compositions which accentuate the escape from the claustrophobia of the train while remaining on the “straight and narrow”: