Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #26: I Hear the Train a Comin' (Opening Scene of The Narrow Margin)

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It seems since film noir had been around for more than a decade, the film makers and writers had to ramp up the genre, (been there, done that).  I can see the exaggerated dialogue from the younger, cynical, goal oriented detective in contrast with the somewhat older detective that is more relaxed, humorous to just another routine job.  The noir elements are present: night scene, train,city sign(Chicago),Fedora and trench coat detectives. I guess things had to evolve to a parody or "burlesque" as more of the films were made in the 50's. I still like them even more now because of this course.

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Trains are a very common setting for a film noir, but this film is a special case, as most of it and its action takes place in a train from Chicago to L.A. As seen as early as in La Bete Humaine, a train's constant moving and its disturbing sound are important factors for them to have a substantial part in many films noir such as Berlin Express or Strangers on a Train. Ι don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but most of these films are great both for their plots and artistic quality. The Narrow Margin is not an exception.

 

And the "man in black" underscored that desperation of noir characters and the train itself as a metaphor both moving and confining at the same time when he sang: I bet there's rich folks eatin' in a fancy dinning car. They're probably drinkin' coffee And smokin' big cigars Well I know I had it comin' I know I can't be free But those people keep a-movin' and that's what tortures me"  

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A roar, whistle, and bells. The train gets louder, but you can't see it. Then....a bright flash of light hits you....THE NARROW MARGIN comes out of the light.  The title whizzes off the screen along with the speeding train.  The loud clanging of the bells almost rattles you.  Now it's calm and the train slows down, but Walter and his partner are still in a hurry. The quick-paced talk and actions of the detectives matches the speed of the train. This definitely parodies earlier noir, but maybe not so much in a spoof sort of way, rather an homage to it's predecessors.

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I'm afraid I do agree with Hirsch's take that the dialogue sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school."  There are times in this scene, especially when the partner is talking to the cabbie, that they talk so fast you can hardly understand what they are saying.  The description of the "dame" they are about to pick up uses every adjective in the book to describe a noir woman.  I've also always thought that Charles McGraw voice was so gravelly and gruff that it always sounded like he was a little over-the-top, no matter what movie he was in.  Great for noirs male characters, but not always fitting for other characters.

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As I am watching the opening credits of “The Narrow Margin,” you know this is a “B” movie; and I start wondering where are the “B” movies of today?  A silly question really, for I was able to answer it within a second.  Television.  I gather there is a whole plethora of “B” material on the many Cable and pay Internet venues available to the modern audience. 

 

The other thing that intrigued me about the opening of “The Narrow Margin” was the handsome actor playing one of the detectives.  Who is this guy?  Charles McGraw.  I had to research his filmography on Wikipedia; and I discovered he had been in a zillion movies (including “The Killers” and “Berlin Express,” both of which I had recently watched for this course).  YIKES ~ Why didn’t I remember him? Was “The Narrow Margin” his big leading role? 

 

I know I digress, but  returning to the discussion of our “MEANS” module, I think the studio system gave so much work to so many people and these “B” movies were analogous to the minors in baseball. 

 

To get back to the question at hand ~ Is “The Narrow Margin” a parody of the Noir genre?  All I know at this point is that Charles McGraw was leading man, i.e., major league, material. 

 

I may just watch “The Narrow Margin” Friday at 8:00 p.m.  I do so enjoy Eddie Muller’s introductions, and I would like to see what the “hoodlum’s” wife looks like.  :) 

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The sound of a train is the first thing you hear.  Then you see the train coming around a curve while the credits start rolling.  The train sound continues.  It starts to slow down to stop.  Next you hear someone at the station making an announcement over the intercom.  Next two guys get out from the "doorway"--the train exit.  You can tell which one is more relaxed and funny.  The other one is hard-boiled.  You can tell by his speech.  Next you see Mr. Relaxed outside of an art-deco set of doors leading from the station.  He is framed in the taxi window as he talks to the driver.  Then Mr. Tense comes up and gets into the cab.  You see a light on both of them in the back seat.  Then there are the shots of them talking showing one angle and then the other.  Mr. Tense says Mr. Relaxed is still a kid at heart.  Mr. Tense knows what type of woman she is.  Mr. Relaxed indicates that no one knows what she looks like.  Then Mr. Tense describes a cheap meal special.  "She married a mobster didn't she." Mr. Relaxed offers a bet of $5 that he will be wrong.

 

I do not notice burlesque at this point in the movie.  But I do see the hard-boiled detective.  It reminded me of Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.  I had the feeling Mr. Relaxed reminded me of Sydney Greenstreet.  I assume the action will be all on the train to Los Angeles, thus the title The Narrow Margin.

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The train stops as the credits are over.  Nice touch.  The black and grayness of everything gives this film an ominous beginning.  I also notice that as in the forties and fifties smoking is huge in most of these films.  Even a discussion ensues about the cigar being out and the other passenger says he is going to get another brand.  One that starts itself.  haha.  Then the bet as to what how the girl looks. 

 

The entire film from the beginning is going so fast.  McGraw tells the porter to get his two bags on board.  The porter then says that train will leave in an hour as he accepts McGraw's gratuity.  McGraw says he will be back in time. 

 

Also, an interesting discussion about a woman that no one has ever seen.  McGraw deduces that she is a dish and evil too because she was a criminal's girl.  

 

Interesting beginning.  I always liked McGraw as a tough guy in THE KILLERS.  He always reminded me of Elaine Benis' dad on Seinfeld (LAWRENCE TIERNEY).  Both of them could have switched roles. 

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Wk 8 Narrow Margin


-- Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"? No. Definitely not. At least not in this three-minute opening. I think the dialogue is clever and the actors are adept at delivering it with just the right amount of sardonic zip. Not heavy-handed, as if they’ve spoken that way all their lives. There’s an abrupt segue from “self-starting” cigars to what the dame looks like, but it didn’t bother me, I chalked it up as the cop dealing with the “elephant in the room.” “Dish. 60-cent special. Cheap. Flashy, Strictly poison under the gravy.” They may be pushing the “no women” manifesto of the noirs, but I liked it anyway. I’ll definitely watch this in its entirety and my opinion may change but for right now I love the dialogue and how the actors deliver it. Not a burlesque. It’s the real deal, to me.


-- What are some of the major noir elements in this film's opening, and do they seem to be variations on similar elements we have encountered in other noir films from the mid to late 1940s? Noir is sometimes about shifting you off center, making you feel a little uneasy. This does that from the opening when we hear the train whistle blaring under the RKO logo sans the familiar Morse Code sounds. It’s off-putting and works well. The titles are integrated perfectly into the camera movement. There’s a cold documentary-like feel to it, Some vertigo-inducing shots of the train moving and the lights coming at you. In place of the customary loud musical chord when the title zooms up, we hear instead clanging train sounds boosted on the soundtrack to a very high gain. Killer good! I love this movie already and all I saw was a few seconds of it! I love that there’s no underscoring musically. I love that the African-American redcap is not portrayed as a stereotype. He’s a person who knows his job and gets it done. I’ve noticed another place where film noir breaks the code is to include some African Americans in non-traditional (as in the stereotypes of the time) scenes. E.G., in “Tension”, an African-American woman picks up a prescription at the drugstore, and in a few other movies there are African Americans and Hispanics portrayed just as regular people, so kudos to noir for that, sadly it's not always the case, as in some stereotypes we've just witnessed in that "Kansas City Confidential."  There are lots of trains in noir, the beginning of Martha Ivers comes to mind. If anything, this opening is certainly more stark than many of them. The others most likely couldn’t resist adding music to manipulate you. There is a cold desolation about this opening, characteristic of post-WWII noir. Can’t wait to see this one!


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As I am watching the opening credits of “The Narrow Margin,” you know this is a “B” movie; and I start wondering where are the “B” movies of today?  A silly question really, for I was able to answer it within a second.  Television.  I gather there is a whole plethora of “B” material on the many Cable and pay Internet venues available to the modern audience. 

 

The other thing that intrigued me about the opening of “The Narrow Margin” was the handsome actor playing one of the detectives.  Who is this guy?  Charles McGraw.  I had to research his filmography on Wikipedia; and I discovered he had been in a zillion movies (including “The Killers” and “Berlin Express,” both of which I had recently watched for this course).  YIKES ~ Why didn’t I remember him? Was “The Narrow Margin” his big leading role? 

 

I know I digress, but  returning to the discussion of our “MEANS” module, I think the studio system gave so much work to so many people and these “B” movies were analogous to the minors in baseball. 

 

To get back to the question at hand ~ Is “The Narrow Margin” a parody of the Noir genre?  All I know at this point is that Charles McGraw was leading man, i.e., major league, material. 

 

I may just watch “The Narrow Margin” Friday at 8:00 p.m.  I do so enjoy Eddie Muller’s introductions, and I would like to see what the “hoodlum’s” wife looks like.  :) 

 

Marie Windsor is a sultry dish.  She has dark hair and beautiful eyes.  I have seen her in other movies and on television.  Don Beddoe is another familiar face in this film.  He was a distinguished character actor and Broadway actor.

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– Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"?

 

The discussion in the taxi about what Mrs. Frankie Neal looks like does seem to support Hirsch’s assessment.  Walt, the younger detective, is a buttoned-down kind of guy who is concerned about making the departure of the train back to Los Angeles on time and tells the cab driver to take any available short cuts.  Walt has his trench coat belt buckled and tucked in neatly, not just tied around his waist the way world-weary private eyes like Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart would do.  Walt seems like a spit-and-polish police detective who has everything figured out before he even has all the facts.  In that sense he does seem like a bit of a parody of the hard-boiled detective of early film noir.  Gus, on the other hand, is getting on in years and has an easier approach and outlook on things.  He’s not so worried about missing the train back to L.A.  His dark overcoat has some sort of belt that is cinched at the waist.  While Walt smokes cigarettes, Gus smokes a cigar that keeps going out on him.  Walt has to brush away the ashes on Gus’s coat that Gus seems unaware of.  So when Gus raises the question of what Mrs. Frankie Neal looks like, Walt’s preconceived notions about a woman neither detective has ever seen reflect what can be interpreted as a parody of a stereotype developed in the first decade of film noir.  By 1952 the hard-boiled language Walt employs to describe her may have begun to sound a little passé to contemporary audiences.  Gus’s generic term “dame” is not precise enough for Walt; no, to Walt she’s a “dish.”  And Walt goes on in that vein describing Mrs. Neal with his stereotype for any woman who was married to a hoodlum.  The good-natured, reflective Gus cannot see the world in such black and white terms:

Walt asks, “What kind of a dame would marry a hood?”

Gus replies almost wistfully, “All kinds.”

Walt responds, “Oh, Gus, at heart you’re still a boy scout.”

It’s as if Gus has encountered a femme fatale or two during the first decade of film noir and knows from experience that they are not all cheap “dishes.”  Some have a little more class than that and can even cause a good man (or a boy scout) to lose his head.

 

– What are some of the major noir elements in this film's opening, and do they seem to be variations on similar elements we have encountered in other noir films from the mid- to late 1940s?

 

•  Train whistle begins on the soundtrack during the RKO logo, replacing the usual beeps; helps to establish the movement and urgency in the opening scene, even before the train is seen

•  Night-for-night shooting

•  Low-key lighting

•  Formalistic use of the out-of-focus train windows flashing past behind the title frame

•  Strobe light effect on “Chicago Yard Limit” sign

•  Low-angle shot of Walt making baggage arrangements with the redcap

 

To me, the techniques used here seem to be variations on elements we have seen before.  A good example for comparison is the first minute and 22 seconds of RKO’s Crack-Up, a film noir directed by Irving Reis in 1946.

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I've only seen the Narrow Margin in bits and pieces, so I'll be sure to watch. I've always like Charles McGraw for his gruff, gritty voice and square jaw and Marie Windsor would be perfect as the gangster's moll. I really like the opening credits and how it opens fast along with the trains.


 


For me the best noirs in the 40s, not to say the 50s have bad noirs, Some are my favorites are in the 50s, they just get to where I know what's gonna happen. I have some exceptions, Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright, Angel Face, Roses are Red, and a Kiss Before Dying. I have to say by 1958/59 the noir cycle was definetly over and anything after that to me is neo- noir or a send-up to noir using the same formula. As you can tell I'm a fan of the original noirs, I dont even like to call it the classical period because for me the 40s and 50s are noirs and thing after that neo-noir because the film maker is imitating style


 


 


-- Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"?


-- What are some of the major noir elements in this film's opening, and do they seem to be variations on similar elements we have encountered in other noir films from the mid to late 1940s?


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Well they certainly use the traditional noir dialogue such as the word dame but you can tell that Gus has certainly had some experience with other women just like the one they are picking up.  The use of the train to tell us what is going on is definitely like some of the early film noirs that we have seen throughout this course and of course everything is shot in shadow and low-key lighting which still gives me that eerie feeling of dread.  

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Can somebody please tell me if the opening scene here, when the one train passes the other,  is a recycled clip from one of the earlier movies in our course "Crack-Up" with Pat O'Brien.  Not the dream sequence scene when the trains crash, but the later scene when he remembers what really happens.  I could be crazy, but it seems so familiar.  Maybe I've just watched too many of these movies is the last few weeks and they're all starting to run together.  Anyways, it's sad it's coming to an end.  I'll miss talking with all of you.

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This opening wastes no time. The RKO logo music is pushed aside for a train whistle. The title rushes headlong at us with the locomotive, seeming to  burst out of its headlight. The two detectives who get off the train, Walter (Charles McGraw) and Gus (Don Beddoe), have a mere hour to pick up their charge, Mrs. Neal (Marie Windsor) and get her on the return train. Their lines are short and functional til they're in the cab. There they can relax a bit and engage in some idle speculative banter about this "dame" they're picking up, giving birth to immortal oft-quoted lines like "sixty cent special, cheap, flashy. Strictly poison under the gravy." Not to worry, the lines'll keep coming once Mrs Neal gets on board.

 

Like Dubbed pointed out in the previous post, the easy, snappy flow has grown a bit weary here. Walter and Gus seem more hardened and jaded by the realities of their job, compared to the detectives we saw a decade earlier. Walter (McGraw) especially.

 

I guess after several decades of hard-boiled fiction on the screen and page, its patterns and conventions will start to look like self-parody. Now that audiences have become so familiar with the tropes of noir, writers can use them as convenient time-saving shorthand. We see two tough-talking guys in trenchcoats - we know immediately they're cops or gangsters. It saves a lot of exposition but also means the movie's more or less in a rut.

 

Between the tough talk Walter shows his fondness for Gus with little offhand gestures like lighting his cigar and then brushing the ash off his coat, and gentle ribbing: "you're still a boy scout at heart". Human touches like that are needed to counteract the hard-boiled stuff and NARROW MARGIN has them indeed.

 

BTW this is one where we should really avoid spoilers like the plague, at least til Friday. It's so easy to get carried away while writing. :)

Your comment about the tropes of Noir "writers can use them as convenient time-saving shorthand" is something that I have observed in almost all types of film and TV. Is it because it is easy and familiar or perhaps after years of similar scripts, writers are simply getting bored and thus a lack of passion and creativity becomes obvious? While some audiences find the familiar and predictable comforting, others (like me) find it disappointing. If you are actively attempting a parody, terrific, but when you are attempting to be serious and become one through lack of imagination your film style, like the hopes and dreams of your characters, will fade away.

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Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"?

 

I have seen The Narrow Margin more than a few times. I don't find that the dialogue in the film is a parody of other crime thrillers. The script is tight and spare, and perhaps the writer(s) had some fun with the dialogue in order to punch up the surprise twist, which is revealed after the climax of the action. SPOILER ALERT For most of the film the director is leading the audience to accept Marie Windsor (who always plays a bad girl), as the gangster's moll. When Charles McGraw describes her as "strictly poison under the gravy" we know that she is a femme fatale, bad news, under all of the charms displayed and highlighted about her physical appearance. She is a woman for whom men will die. So the foreshadowing of Marie Windsor as a woman leading men to their deaths as well as Don Beddoe's "dead" cigar let us know that he will soon be a dead man. The foreshadowing of death is a noir construct.

 

The film opens at night, in a train yard, with lots of headlights from the trains shining in the characters faces. Those faces are lit like the masks in the early films noir we have seen throughout the course. It doesn't hurt that Charles McGraw, with his Dick Tracy profile, gravely voice, and great delivery of lines which could sound a bit corny is the star of the movie. If we see McGraw, 9 times out of 10, we are watching noir. He has been in many of the films we have seen throughout the course. So the noirish lighting, filmed at night with a hard-boiled detective as our lead character is an integral part of the genre.

 

Another noir element is the interaction between two policemen one of whom one is definitely more cynical than the other. This opening always reminds me of the early scenes of On Dangerous Ground, when Robert Ryan is talking with his older partner revealing he is the more cynical and lonely of the two men. It is similar in that Ryan is the younger, handsomer, single cop without a wife and family to keep him grounded in reality, and to soften his rough edges with a warm family support system. That is basically the interaction in The Narrow Margin between McGraw and Beddoe in the early scenes.  Beddoe is the humane cop who understands that women come in all packages and judging the gangster's wife just on the fact that she is married to a criminal doesn't make her a particular type of woman. Beddoe is also foreshadowing the plot twist later in the film.

 

In my view this movie's emphasis on the cynical interplay between McGraw and Windsor, Windsor's incredibly hard-edged performance and appearance, and Don Beddoe's early demise in the film, (after all, a man who looks at the world in shades of grey might guess the secret before McGraw's character would) are all necessary to keep the audience off balance in order to pull off the plot twist. I think it is done masterfully and is not a parody the genre, but is done to keep the key secret from the audience until it finds out just who the "moll" really is.

 

 

What are some of the major noir elements in this film's opening, and do they seem to be variations on similar elements we have encountered in other noir films from the mid to late 1940s?

 

In addition to the night setting, with lighting that reveals important character traits of the two detectives, the single light source which cannot be explained by natural phenomena or a source organic to the setting, the faces lit like masks, the dialogue which foreshadows plot developments to come, the imminent presence of a femme fatale, tension created by the fact that the pair are in a hurry, which one recognizes but the other doesn't take seriously, are all similar to elements seen in films noir throughout the course.

 

Also, the use of the credits to add to the mobile nature of the film on a train is another noirish element we have seen in Kiss Me Deadly. It is more likely that KMD is a parody of The Narrow Margin, than that our clip is a parody of other noirs. Finally the sound effects add greatly to the setting of the railroad yard in the opening as well as the train setting for most of the film.

 

It is natural that by 1952, filmmakers would be looking for plot twists in the crime thrillers produced and in my opinion the plot twist is what drives most of the action until it is revealed.

 

Adding to the tension, although not in the opening scene is the confined space in which the characters are living on the train ride between Chicago and L.A. The tight living quarters are emphasized by an over sized railroad cop who is an important part of the action. When he is trying to squeeze through the small corridors and doorways of the train the audience can feel what it is like to be traveling under such circumstances. This setting reminds me of Berlin Express, which has the same claustrophobic feel. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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-- Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"?

 

In the words of Jeff Markam in Out of the Past, “Baby, I don’t care.”  I agree with Richard Edwards that this is, indeed, a “splendid” B movie.  Mr. Hirsch, when he says it is a “parody of the hard-boiled school”, refers to the character of the mobster’s widow and her behavior.  He is also referring to the other female character when he refers to the “inverted noir molds” and playing “with noir’s traditional iconographic depiction of women.”  I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Hirsch did not want to admit, like Det. Walter Brown, that anyone other than a mobster’s widow can get mixed up with the Wrong Man.  But the short answer to the question is, no, I do not see any “parody” or “burlesque” in this opening scene. It does, however, play out in a certain formulaic manner, with the more hard-boiled detective (Brown) sparing verbally with is more understanding, older, and more experienced partner (who we can see Brown adores by brushing the ash off his lapel) over what the “dame” will look like, ending in a bet over it. [i apologize if there is a spoiler alert but I couldn’t address this without it.]

 

-- What are some of the major noir elements in this film's opening, and do they seem to be variations on similar elements we have encountered in other noir films from the mid to late 1940s?

 

Some noir elements would be: its sound - train whistles, crossing bells, wheels on the tracks (the only soundtrack in this movie is related to trains – there is no music); a tight close up of a yard sign indicating they are in Chicago; tight slightly angled view of the train pulling into the station, cars rushing by in a blur; using night shots but very few establishing street shots to orient where they are; a sense of urgency (another train to catch); and the close ups of the two men in the cab.  Whether a criminal or cop, to me one element of noir is Charles McGraw (rivaled only by Lawrence Tierney), one of the quintessential noir character actors, who brings his gruff, no nonsense persona to this film. 

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Marie Windsor is a sultry dish.  She has dark hair and beautiful eyes.  I have seen her in other movies and on television.  Don Beddoe is another familiar face in this film.  He was a distinguished character actor and Broadway actor.

She did Perry Mason, too.  If you watch the original Perry Mason series, like I do (and  have done literally all my life) you will see a parade of character actors from the movies.  Especially Film Noir - it's too, too fun!  Also, Bette Davis did one!! She played an attorney filling in for Perry while he was laid up in the hospital.  As did Michael Rene - a very good episode. 

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And the "man in black" underscored that desperation of noir characters and the train itself as a metaphor both moving and confining at the same time when he sang: I bet there's rich folks eatin' in a fancy dinning car. They're probably drinkin' coffee And smokin' big cigars Well I know I had it comin' I know I can't be free But those people keep a-movin' and that's what tortures me"  

I almost opened my notations with "thanks, now I can't get the Johnny Cash song out of my head" but I can't find/remember what song it is!?  Do you know?

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I would say the dialogue is the hard boiled biting variety; a "dame" that is "strictly poison under the gravy". Parody, burlesque? Well, hard for me to say, but yes, I guess so. I like it, I want to go with them in their mission.

The lightning (contrast, shadows), angles, the train sound (no music though), the announcing of the femme fatale, hard talking detectives builds the noir environment. Without dramatic music and with the almost funny bantering between the two men I do not, as in many of the other clips, have the feeling of a foreboding doom announced. Not yet.

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To me, the opening scene of the train arriving at the Chicago station seemed to be pretty standard noir, the inky blackness of the night contrasted with the bright lights of the train, lack of music.   A stark presentation.  We quickly learn that the men are going to pick up someone and leave almost immediately.  This is very unusual, as underscored by the redcap's surprise.  We know that this trip is most definitely out of the ordinary.  And the cab ride is apparently taking them to a not so great section of town.  There's that "no good can come of this" feeling...

 

I got the sense of parody when the two detectives talk in the car.  When Walter says he knows what the "dame" looks like already and his partner is disbelieving, Walter's description of the woman is that she is a dish, the 60 cent special, flashy, cheap, strictly poison under the gravy."  What popped into my mind was that (1) Walter has been watching too many noir films on The Summer of Darkness, and (2) that I could imagine Peter Falk saying something like this in The Cheap Detective with his special flair.  Would I have thought that if I hadn't read the curator's note before watching the clip (the effect of  "power of suggestion)?  I don't know....

 

I saw and enjoyed the remake of this movie with Gene Hackman many years ago but have never seen the original and am looking forward to watching it.

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I'm not certain I see too much to set this clip apart from the rest of the Noir we've seen up till this point. I've not seen the film so I can't tell what's going to go wrong but so far it's just pretty standard hard-boiled territory. The older guy seems a little less cynical and world-weary somehow than younger cop, still a little more open-minded too. And this being Noir, I know which one is going to get into trouble with the gangster's moll and which one is going to die earlier in the movie! But maybe Noir will surprise me again. 

 

It did hook me enough to make me look forward to seeing how my ideas are subverted. Or not! 

 

 

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Opening Scene of The Narrow Margin

 

The first sound we hear is the whistle of a train while the RKO Radio logo is still animating.

 

The first image we see, is of a speeding train at night, in the distance with its whistle getting louder as it nears and then, blaring as it visually collides with the title page.

 

Next we see the train slowly rolling by (no cuts) until it comes to a stop, 40 seconds later.

 

Is there any wonder, that the train will play a role in this film either as part of the plot or the setting for any action to come

 

Dialogue

The dialogue here is mostly non-engaging. When the two gentlemen step off the train, their talk is matter of fact. When they get to the taxi cab, each gives the driver orders. Once inside, their talk is exactly like what Detective Walter Brown says, “. . . you’re just making talk.” Neither are exchanging views or opinions of any importance really. I would call it chit chat without substance. All that small talk and they still do not know about the "She" they are picking up and neither do we.

 

This is quite different from the quick-talk banters that we have heard in noirs this summer. Out of the Past comes to mind. The verbal exchanges between Jeff and Whit as I recall, were quick, biting, menacing, witty and pleasant to hear.

 

Parody or not

As members here have suggested, we have not seen enough of the film to either agree or disagree with Foster Hirsch's assessment concerning 'dialogue sounding like parody of hard-boiled school. Friday’s viewing will help us decide.

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-- Do you see evidence, even in the film's opening scenes, for Foster Hirsch's assessment that the dialogue in this film sounds like a "parody of the hard-boiled school" or that "noir conventions are being burlesqued"?

 

I disagree with the "parody" and "burlesqued" assessments. I think the film was trying to provide what audiences seemed to want in a film noir. For me, the snappy patter was an attempt to emulate the dialogue style of great writers such as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett - not an attempt to parody them. If it seems like parody, maybe it is just because the writers were not as good as Chandler and Hammett.

 

Without knowing the film maker's intent, It can be difficult to determine if we are seeing a parody. For example, many people feel that the snappy dialogue used in the race horse metaphor used by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in "The Big Sleep" was intended as a parody, but it was not. It was specifically added to the film prior to its release, because Bacall's agent, Charles K. Feldman, had advised Jack Warner that the film needed to emulate the feistiness shown between Bogart and Bacall in "To Have and to Have Not." Lauren Bacall had been severely panned in the film she made with Charles Boyer (made after "The Big Sleep," but released before it), in which she displayed no spunk or humor. Feldman convinced Warner that he would lose a valuable asset (Bacall) if he allowed her to appear in two movies in a row in which her dialogue was unremarkable, as that would ruin her career. 

 

It seems to me that for every specific genre of Art, there is a period in which the genre is being invented and initially defined, followed by a period in which it blossoms to maturity, followed by a period in which significant innovation stops, and it begins the descent into parody. Examples of this in painting are the works of the Raphaelites, the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and the works of the Impressionists. In the case of film noir, it seems to me that when "The Narrow Margin" was made in 1952, the great film noir tropes that we now know and love had already been invented, so the only options were either to carry on in this tradition or to descend into parody and burlesque.  I don't think we had come to parody and burlesque stage yet in 1952. 

An additional comment concerning my remark "Without knowing the film maker's intent, It can be difficult to determine if we are seeing a parody":  The exception to this is when the film maker's intent is easy to discern because the film is so over the top. An example of this is "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," which is an over the top parody and homage to film noir.   

 

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   It's possible Charles McGraw represents the classic style of noir with his hard-nosed, strictly business, play-it-by-the-book detective, referring to the "dish" as the 60¢ special.  Don Beddoe's character emphasizing or hinting of a new attitude towards the old style film making,  "I'm thinking of changing brands, something with a self-starter on it." Noir has run it's course, it's time to rethink the formula.  When asked "What kind of a dame marries a hood?" His response is, "All kinds." as his smile and demeanor changes to a somber, dismal mood.  Meaning these days there is no specific type of woman in these films. 

I enjoyed this. You make points worthy of consideration.

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I saw and enjoyed the remake of this movie with Gene Hackman many years ago but have never seen the original and am looking forward to watching it.

 

I caught Gene Hackman's Narrow Margin (1990) version a few weeks ago, so I would be interested in hearing your views in comparison to The Narrow Margin (1952) edition!  Enjoy!!!

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