Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Narrow Margin

We're continuing Noir Week with The Narrow Margin! And I'm trying a little something different with this review.
One's hard and square, the other one's soft and round.
I hadn't heard of this one and just picked it up on a whim, so I had pretty low expectations. What a great noir it is! I'm surprised I haven't heard about it sooner.

Ms. Frankie Neal(Maria Windsor), a mob wife, is planning on testifying against her husband.  But in order to do so, she has to go into hiding and take a long train ride with the protection of Det. Sgt. Walter Brown(Charles McGraw).  A couple of assassins are on the train with them, but they don't know what she looks like! Can Brown hide her long enough for her to testify?

This is a very tense noir, made possible by the fact that 90 % of it takes place on the train, giving it a claustrophobic feeling. It has a number of dueling personalities whether it's Brown fighting with Neal, who doesn't trust him at all, or Brown casually bumping into the assassin, as both are trying to follow each other without the other seeing.  They engage in a game of in the open hide and seek, not giving away who they really are to the other passengers.
She's beautiful, but she's got a mouth on her.
The characters are all very interesting, and no one is who they seem. You can see Brown has a real struggle, does he keep this annoying broad safe, do what's right, and risked getting killed for a poor paycheck? Or does he give into temptation, take the money and look the other way? How much is she really worth?  Neal is also intriguing, she's loud and annoying, and you wonder how far she'll go to risk her own neck.  There's also this annoying kid, who's always screaming.  I kind of wanted someone to slap him. Wasn't this the fifties? They could have gotten away with that.

The pacing is perfect and the dialogue is tops. Tops I said! It's close to the great back and forth of Murder My Sweet.  The actors are all fun to watch; McGraw is a hardcase and Windsor is a loudmouth.  The story keeps you guessing, and has some nice turns, including one huge twist at the end that I was generally surprised at. I haven't been this surprised by a noir in awhile! It relies on a pretty big coincidence, but man, film noir is all about coincidences.
They're always at each other's throats. He resents her, and she doesn't trust him. Great characters.
They made a drastic choice of not including any kind of score or soundtrack, save the background music, and it helps to keep the tense tone. I've only seen a few movies do this and do it well. It's a great way to make the movie more tense and real.  They also set up some really nice dramatic shots, and use a cool camera trick in the movie's finale.

It's a nice little noir with a great twist. I wouldn't say it's amazing enough to make my all time favorites, but it's still a great noir. I immediately felt the urge to rewatch it right after I finished it!

THE GOOD: great story, good use of no soundtrack, great dialogue, very tense and claustrophobic, awesome twist, nice shots.

THE BAD: kid gets annoying

THE VERDICT: Definitely see it! It's one of the better noirs you'll encounter, and you'll want to rewatch it to see if you catch the twist!

MOVIES LIKE IT: The Set-Up, On Dangerous Ground, Maltese Falcon, A Lonely Place, DOuble Indemnity

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: There's a portly gentleman who takes up the whole width of the train corridor, making it unable to push past him. "Nobody likes a fat man." He seems jovial and innocent enough until the heated detective doesn't want to deal with him, and we get a dark shot that tells us there's something more devious to this guy than he's letting on.
"Nobody likes a fat man."

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