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Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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The train comes right into the viewers' faces. (Could that be a precursor to 3d or do I have my timeline off?) There's a man in a trench coat and hat barking orders at people. When questioned, he fires back retorts quickly. The timing on the dialogue is rapid-fire. Also the way they describe the woman - dame, dish, etc. all point to noir.

 

I can see how this is an attempt to cash in with people already familiar with the genre. They know what to expect and I'm thinking that's exactly what they will get.

 

I also see this kind of thing often in modern film. It explains why people like Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler still have careers. Give the people what they want. I don't mean to sound disrespectful about this particular film; it just reminds me of a mindset that Hollywood seems to have adopted, completely to its detriment.

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I'm not sure if I agree with Hirsch because I'm optomistic about it. I mean they are wearing fedoras and trench coats and smoking.

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This feels like the director and everyone involved set out to make a full blown noir. They tailored every detail to fit the noir genre. It probably didn't take long to film. The whole sequence felt like almost a wink to an audience. They know this is what they want to see. They know this is what people like. Because of that, they decide to amp everything up and make it almost a farce. There is little subtlety, little mystery. It's all been there, done that.

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This film does do something very different than the others--the train sounds begin when the student logo is being shown. It succeeds in highlighting the importance of the train. There are many noir elements: trench coats, fedoras, tough cops, trains, darkness, the train coming right at you, cigarettes, and matches. It also has a soft cop with a broader, more positive attitude. Maybe his getting old. Maybe some critics things film nior is getting old. Personally, I have no problem with this. It's good cop/bad cop with more to come.

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   After watching the entire film of The Narrow Margin, I think this movie goes right to the edge of parody but does not leap off.

 

   Every scene in the opening is over-the-top:  Loud whistle of the train, the blinding light of the train, the oversized opening credits, the sharp dialogue...all setting us up for a "ride".  The film then settles down to a very deep, rich, full noir experience.

    A few great scenes:

           As the opening credits end, the producer and director's name "ride" along a pale white line on the train then ever so slightly the camera turns and the director's name looks like it is entering the train opening.

            After McGraw enters the apartment building the camera changes to a high angle shot, as he climbs the stairs a long, narrow, dark shadow is cast across his neck and it follows him up the stairs without crossing his face.

            Many scenes with double relections in the train windows, but one stands out when McGraw sees Mrs. Neal and the killer. The clarity of the reflection throws the viewer off kilter for a moment.

            The fat detective Jennings "plugs' the corridor stopping the reporters temporarily, and slightly smiles afterward.

 

   I would say this movie "cup runneth over" with noir, this is the most noirish movie I have watched so far. 

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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"?

 

It does sound like a parody. Though it feels like a natural progression of conversation, the things that are being said and what's being spent time on is silly. The classic noir PI doesn't care about cigarettes, but these guys do. They don't care about the damme, they just wan't to get things done, but these guys do. The aloofness and hardness of the classic is not there, though it pretends to be, in the film. Not to mention that there's just more legitimate humor such as the bags in LA without owners joke.

 

-- 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?

 

As others have said: the train, the city noise, the two men, the taxi, the smoking, the dame, the mystery, the danger. Somethings atypical, especially in early films, the quick movement of scenes and the largness of the world of the film.

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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"?

 

Yes, I noticed a slight parody of the hard-boiled school in the dialogue for this opening scene of the film.

 

However, it is kind of hard to notice being form this generation because we (my generation) mostly assume that people actually talked like this during that time period. But if you listen closely to the dialogue in the scene, you can spot certain parody phrasings like “What dish… and what kind of dame would marry a hood?”

 

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?

 

To me, I believe that there are some variations in the opening scene of this film that slightly parody some of the major noir elements that we have encountered in other noir films from the mid to late 1940s.

 

First, how the title of the film appears on the screen and how the scene cuts to a sign that reads “Chicago Yard Limit” that has been shot at a dramatic angle. To me, these two things highlight the staging and camera work that film noir is known for.

 

Secondly, the cynical dialogue between the two “hard-boiled” detectives creates a slight parody of the elements that we have discussed in regard to the characters and the attitudes that inhabit the world of film noir.

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26. NARROW MARGIN: Two Lonesome Suitcases.

Within 2 minutes after the credits we wonder if they'll make their return train, what a hood's wife looks like and which will win $5.

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No, I don't see paradoy of the "hard boiled school" in the first scene. It is Noir all the way. My guess is that the paradoy will start in the scene when the woman enters the script. Just a guess as I have not seen the film. I think she may not be the kind of femme fatale we have seen before.

 

The young detective, Charles McGraw, with his trench coat and fedora hat is old school all the way. His talk, from interaction with porter which has a tone of  "all business", and is "sharp, directive, in charge";  to dialogue with the other detective which has ironic humor, reparte, and tough talk, is also classic Noir "man talk".  He makes assumptions about the woman he has never seen, which stereotypes her( from the high testosterone, super male ego point of view)--- she is, " cheep, a dish, flashy, strickly poisin under the gravy". I'm looking for the paradoy but don't see it yet.

 

One  of the Noir elements in this film's opening shot that seems to be a variation from other train films we have reviewed is

that all of the camera shots are from outside of the train, in contrast with both La Bette Humaine and Strangers on a Train, where the

filming was inside the train.

 

Other elements of Noir seen here are night shots, shadows and high intensity sound track with bells, clicking--clacking train rails, train station announcers droning voice about train arrivals and departures, canted camers angles, honking taxi horns, etc. 

 

In an era where most of movie viewers had not traveled much, and before the era of air travel, train stations were symbols of adventure, mystery and an exotic life style not widely available. Thus, this on-location setting gives an added punch to the film that viewers of the time could relate to immediately. Today with more travel by air rather than by train ( except for rail commuters) a train  ride is a new  adventure that people seek out. That may be why films with trains are so compelling to today's virwers.   

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Setting aside recycled and over the top hard-boiled dialogue and the demise of noir for a moment, does anyone else think that Earl Felton’s script contains elements that, while creating the major plot twist, are frankly hard to believe?

 

Specifically, the issue is detectives Brown and Forbes don’t know that Marie Windsor’s character isn’t Mrs. Frankie Neal.  In fact no one knows what Mrs. Neal looks like (how is this possible?).  This sets up the whole conceit of her acting like a gun moll replete with the hard-boiled language and tough girl behavior.  The script asks me to believe that the police department would create a fake witness that the mob believes is real and would like to kill all in an effort to set up an internal affairs corruption sting.  That’s a bit of a stretch.

 

Also, why the record player?  The detectives didn’t buy it when they went to Mrs. Neal’s apartment.  They told her to turn it off.  So, why would they let her bring it along on the train?  Additionally, why would either a detective playing a gun moll or a real gun moll want to draw attention to herself by playing music in a room that’s supposed to be unoccupied?  It’s a nonsensical writing solution that allows mob guys Kemp and Densel to discover her whereabouts.

 

Lastly, does it bother anyone that Marie Windsor’s Mrs. Neal is killed and detective Brown is never given a scene where he takes a moment to see her dead body and possibly say a few words acknowledging a fellow cop killed in the line of duty?  C’mon!  Marie Windsor is the picture!  This is the perfect moment for Brown to admit that he’s a bit quick to draw conclusions.

 

Now, having questioned the script let me say I love The Narrow Margin.  I’ve seen it a number of times mostly to watch the growling Charles McGraw spar with the talented Marie Windsor.  I also love Casablanca and I don’t for a moment think the German Army would allow a major resistance leader to travel from country to country just because he was in possession of a “letter of transit.”  Moral of the story?  I guess sometimes you just have to overlook the far-fetched premises some writers ask you to believe.

 

-Mark

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Setting aside recycled and over the top hard-boiled dialogue and the demise of noir for a moment, does anyone else think that Earl Felton’s script contains elements that, while creating the major plot twist, are frankly hard to believe?

 

Specifically, the issue is detectives Brown and Forbes don’t know that Marie Windsor’s character isn’t Mrs. Frankie Neal.  In fact no one knows what Mrs. Neal looks like (how is this possible?).  This sets up the whole conceit of her acting like a gun moll replete with the hard-boiled language and tough girl behavior.  The script asks me to believe that the police department would create a fake witness that the mob believes is real and would like to kill all in an effort to set up an internal affairs corruption sting.  That’s a bit of a stretch.

 

Also, why the record player?  The detectives didn’t buy it when they went to Mrs. Neal’s apartment.  They told her to turn it off.  So, why would they let her bring it along on the train?  Additionally, why would either a detective playing a gun moll or a real gun moll want to draw attention to herself by playing music in a room that’s supposed to be unoccupied?  It’s a nonsensical writing solution that allows mob guys Kemp and Densel to discover her whereabouts.

 

Lastly, does it bother anyone that Marie Windsor’s Mrs. Neal is killed and detective Brown is never given a scene where he takes a moment to see her dead body and possibly say a few words acknowledging a fellow cop killed in the line of duty?  C’mon!  Marie Windsor is the picture!  This is the perfect moment for Brown to admit that he’s a bit quick to draw conclusions.

 

Now, having questioned the script let me say I love The Narrow Margin.  I’ve seen it a number of times mostly to watch the growling Charles McGraw spar with the talented Marie Windsor.  I also love Casablanca and I don’t for a moment think the German Army would allow a major resistance leader to travel from country to country just because he was in possession of a “letter of transit.”  Moral of the story?  I guess sometimes you just have to overlook the far-fetched premises some writers ask you to believe.

 

-Mark

This is one of my favorite noirs I had a discussion about this with a bud here is the jist of it
 
 
DJ: My problem with this film is the plot. SPOILERS Why keep Charles McGraw in the dark about the true nature of the journey? And if you are going to run a decoy, why would you put her on the same train with the real girl? Wouldn't it make more sense to send them on, you know, different trains? And why even use a train for the real girl? Send the decoy by train, the real girl by airplane. END SPOILERS Willing suspension of disbelief I can do. Willing lobotomy, no.
 
CJ; I think the answers are all in the subtext, Meggs (Decoy Mrs Neal) is not only a decoy but an internal affairs cop, and she is looking for corruption in LAPD. The initial fact that the "safe house" is already compromized, indicates that the underworld has been tipped off by a mole in LAPD as to the whereabouts of Mrs. Neal and the two main LAPD suspects are Brown and Forbes. If you go with that angle the whole "Mrs. Neal and the list" plotpoint becomes irrelvant and the real plot is corruption investigation in LAPD and who is/are the informer(s).  Like you say "Why keep Charles McGraw in the dark" or why not just mail the list.
 
Now remember Forbes right at the get go tries to get Meggs (Decoy Mrs Neal) to give him the list. Once Forbes buys it, Meggs goes to work on Brown tempting him in the cab with sex and later on the train with money.
 
Walter Brown: You're a pretty good judge of crooks, Mrs. Neall; the only place you slip up is with cops. I turned the deal down. 
Mrs. Neal: Then you're a bigger idiot than I thought! When are you going to get it through your square head that this is big business? And we're right in the middle. 
Walter Brown: Meaning you'd like to sell out? 
Mrs. Neal: With pleasure and profit, and so would you. What are the odds if we don't? I sing my song for the grand jury, and spend the rest of my life dodging bullets - -if I'm lucky! - -while you grow old and gray on the police force. Oh, wake up, Brown. This train's headed straight for the cemetery. But there's another one coming along, a gravy train. Let's get on it. 
Walter Brown: Mrs. Neall, I'd like to give you the same answer I gave that hood - but it would mean stepping on your face. 
 
Other thoughts from IMDb
 
by persycat IMDb
"When I saw the movie, I took the lady cop to have been in touch with the actual wife (the blonde) and not just following the detectives. So the plot device made perfect sense to me. It is the same thing as in research when they do a DOUBLE BLIND study...neither the subject NOR THE RESEARCHER know who is getting a placebo and who is getting an actual research drug. That way there is no bias from the observer. In this case, it made perfect sense to me that they did not know whether the gangsters knew what she looked like, so they gave her an EXTRA, EXTRA level of protection by having the person the "known" agents excorted be the agent, and the actual "subject" (the blonde) be a totally "uninterested 3rd party." So I don't know, maybe you had to make an extra naive plot leap to make it understandable... but it made sense to me."
 
more...
 
by tricksofthetrade  IMDb
 
I.A.D. is like any other departmental division, they get credit/promotions/glory for collars. 
 
Although you make a good point about the logic of investigating 'the most unbribeable cop in the world', you are not seeing the big picture. The IAD probably KNEW that the mob would be likley to throw bribe money at the sergeant. Even if he was clean, there is a possibility that he would be tempted to take it. The event such a possiblity and high profile arrest would be a career making event for the IAD officer and supervisor who headed the case. 
 
Also they put the real witness on a different train, there would not be a movie. 
 
 
My thoughts....  the real plot is LAPD corruption. One of the commentors on IMDb says that he's read that in the original script that Forbes was definitely on the take. The curious actions of Brown on the train also make you wonder about him, if he was truely that stupid or if he was deliberately exposing Meggs to the gangsters.  
 
Stanley Rubin (SR) What happened with "Narrow Margin" was kind of interesting. We finished the picture in '51. Howard Hughes had taken over the studio. He ran the finished cut, our cut of "Narrow Margin," one midnight, which was rather typical of Mr. Hughes. By the way, I never met him. I did get memos, but never met him in person. Hughes had bought the studio while we were making "Narrow Margin," but later he brought in Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna to head up production at the studio. In any case, Hughes ran the picture, which had gotten very good word of mouth already. I got a memo from Mr. Hughes, saying he thought it was a very good film, but that he wanted to hold it — instead of releasing it when it was due to be released, the memo stated that he wanted to hold it for a while and he wanted me to think about some way to turn "Narrow Margin," which we had shot for under $250,000 and in under 15 days, into an A-picture. Well, there wasn't any way to turn "Narrow Margin" into an A-picture unless you just scrubbed the picture and recast it with A-names and shot it all over again. I communicated that feeling to Mr. Hughes, but he persisted in thinking that there might be some way to turn it into a big picture. And he held it under his arm or in his vault for a year and that's why "Narrow Margin" was released a year, year and a half after it was finished.
 
Five-O: Was the Hughes cut much different from yours and Fleischer's?
SR: Hughes added at least one additonal heavy. I think Dick Fleischer shot those scenes. I was gone. I was already at Fox. Hughes added one heavy, and then he did another thing which was not smart, it was just an oversight, I guess, on his part and we didn't discover it until one night at Cinematheque at the Egyptian.
 
They ran "Narrow Margin" and someone asked: 'How come Charlie McGraw and Jacqueline White didn't go to pay their respects to Marie Windsor, who'd been shot and killed in the line of duty?' And I said, of course they stop to see her, before you saw them sneaking off the train to go down the tunnel to get into town. Well, we looked at the picture again and that scene had been removed. That moment we had shot was gone. That was a bad, bad, bad oversight on the part of Mr. Hughes. Nontheless, the picture was a good picture. We were all very proud of it, and people were impressed with the performances, the pace, with the plot turns... The picture was screened by Darryl Zanuck and that motivated Fox to make me an offer to come over there. Dick Fleischer went on to do "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" for Disney. Both of those things came from "Narrow Margin."
 
Full interview here:
 
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Charles McGraw’s dour countenance contrasts with his partner’s satisfied grin as they make snappy patter about - what else? - “a cheap dame”.  The two men get off a train, rushing to make an appointment with our noir diva in under an hour.  All the standard elements are here in Narrow Margin to make us feel comfortable - a smoking train with screeching wheels, lots of textured lighting, and terse dialogue from our pessimistic hero.  Where’s the popcorn?


 

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cigarjoe - fascinating information and thanks so much for taking the time to post!  No question Marie Windsor attempts to "corrupt" McGraw with both the promise sex and money.  My question is are we looking at a writing conceit to drive the story forward, putting the audience in the role of trying to protect Mrs. Neal along with detective Brown, or is it the deeper "case" of internal affairs trumping a mob hearing to score a big corruption case?  If it's the latter, then I need to see more of it in the film.

 

Other brief aspects of the film that I love:  Everyone is sending telegrams from stations and the answers are delivered to poles which can be caught by conductors on the speeding train!

 

The staircase scene in Mrs. Neal's apartment building.  When her "pearls" break and they fall at the feet of the assassin.  Now that was beautifully staged and lit.  The dropping pearls and then the dolly/tilt up to Densel's face in shadow couldn't be more perfectly executed.  That's storytelling in film!

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I can see how Foster might claim that the dialogue in The Narrow Margin seems like a parody of something out of an earlier film noir. For all intents and purposes the actors are playing it straight, but given the overly stylistic dialogue in discussing this dame that is about be picked up and Charles McGraw's deep, hard delivery, it feels slightly out of place from a movie in the early 1950s. In this era, in the rise of the consumer culture, I'd imagine people would be more interesting in the new and flashy, like science fiction which hit a high water mark the previous year with The Day the Earth Stood Still. Taking this into account, The Narrow Margin, at least based on this initial scene, feels like a throwback, a period piece almost, showing how much the country is changing is such a short amount of time.

 

The opening plays with its noir conventions well, having been exposed to many of them we know what can be expected from this introduction. The roar of the train is heard even before the film begins, over the RKO Studio logo, rather than the familiar beeps. I had read that usually a film will need special permission to change the studio logo, in either visual terms or to omit the musical theme. If that is the case nowadays, I imagine it must have been a lot harder in 1952. But it's effective because it tells us how ever-present the train will be, the growing tension and claustrophobia is such a small space with little room to maneuver or hide. The title comes screeching at the screen and the credits play across the moving train, reinforcing the idea of the train as a major element to this film. The detectives discuss the woman on their way to pick her up, and we already know what we can expect a woman in the traditional film noir mold, perhaps one that will corrupt these detectives in the close confines of travel.

 

These men act as if they are making a simple delivery, but we know that it is never simple and plans are usually never as well-made as the characters would like them to be. I think we can expect the molls' gangster to make a move in re-obtaining the woman of his desires, perhaps even discover than she is more than simple eye-candy and may be as complicit in the illegal dealings as her man. Walter is already disgusted with the idea of this woman, calling her "poison" but I'm sure a spark of desire and eventual romance will enter the picture once he lays eyes on this cheap dish. Knowing the film noir conventions does give an idea of how the story will play out and it all depends how much you love those conventions to determine if you think they are tired or just as good as in the previous decade.

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The main thing I noticed in this opening scene was the way that a lot of the action and dialogue seemed to happen with a "bursting" quality. The train coming toward the camera, the swing over to the Chicago city sign, the way he speaks to the red cap, the strong walk to the cab, the way that the cab swings over into the left lane, etc. Most of these moves are shown as being strong and from the left to the right.

 

I can see how this combination of action and delivery--both energetic and clipped--could read as a parody. The line about the woman being a "60 cent special" in particular seems to teeter at the edge of too much.

 

But I don't know. Moments like the way that he brushes the cigar ash off of his partner's coat make me feel like there's more than just parody happening.

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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"?"

 

Most of this fits the standard noir opening. Train arriving, night time shoot, the men get off the train, one in a standard trench coat.  Hearing the dialogue does sound like a parody.  Detective Walter Brown's quick words on the "dish," and the descriptive language actually make you smile, because you feel as if you've heard these words before in so many other noir films. You sort of feel you've heard it said better in other films as well.  The one thing you do feel though is the two men's relationship.  By Walter brushing off the cigar ash, you can tell these men have been together for a while and that they take care of one another... perhaps Walter takes care of the other Detective almost as a son to a father.  That kind of moment cements their relationship and feels far from a parody.

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Noir Conventions Burlesqued?

 

The Noir smoke is dead for this detective.   In the cab, Detective Brown comments that his partner’s “Cigar is Dead”.  Detective Brown then adopts his ‘Crystal Ball’ persona and presumes the woman they are about to pick up is a ‘dish’: “I don’t have to wonder, I know.”  Imagining her, he reaches into his coat, pulls out his gun and checks its readiness – already prepared for the ‘dame’ that I assume is the femme fatal.

 

Detective Brown seems an anti-Noir protagonist.   He views an unlit cigar with potential for heat and smoke as dead.  And he rejects the potential heat and smoke of the arriving femme fatal - already put out with his ‘poison under gravy’ presumptions and ‘getting it ready’ gun at his chest.   In short, our Detective has rejected the heat, the fire, the smokiness of classic Noir.

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I agree with the opinion of Foster Hirsch... in The narrow margin we see some elements that remind us of other films noir, Charles McGraw is one of the murderers of The killers, and his character is just as hard, though clear, in this film is at the service of the law.  The way in which refers to the woman, is stereotyped. The duo of police officers, with different characters is also a very addressed topic in the film. And going a bit further, lighting the cigar,  not reminiscent of Fred Mc Murray and Edward G Robinson in Double Indemnity?

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It is clear to me that the dialogues here definetely are getting less formal and intense than in many other noir movies from de 1940's. Both characters seem to be on thei way with less intensity than in times before. So yes, I agree to Foster Hirsch's assessment.

 

Other noir elements include de classical darkness, the low-key lighting and the train as a strong element of suffocation. The players can't get out of that space easily, and that's definetly uncomfortable.

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Isn't that sad?  It's true that when film makers lose their inspiration they go back and hijack elements from previous genres, meaning they start the remake years.  This film does open with a rather bland chit chat between the two men.  They appear to be tough and average men.  One is older and the other is roughly mid 30's.  They both are wearing the same outfit, except that the older man's attire is darker in color.  There is nothing that really pulls the audience into the film from the start, as is a classic trait of noir films.  Something has to happen from the get go to reel in the audience, make them interested, get them to invest themselves in this story and the outcome of the characters, or there is nothing stopping them from leaving disgusted.  I can agree that, for this opener, it does seem that some noir elements were "burlesqued" here.  The two men seem to be going through the motions and that is all.  There is a train, arriving at night.  The two men get off and start their quest for someone or something in a cab.  They talk casually, so they are friends, but there is no hint of anything amiss here.  I don't get any kind of twist, heightened anxiety, deep mystery as I did with previous noir film clips.  The two men appear to be in a hurry, they only have an hour to catch their next train, but they are not impressed by their errand. 

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I agree with CaliClassicMom 2.  These men seem do be going through the motions.  I do see some film noir elements in here.  One example is McGraw's misogyny, 60 cent dame and all of that.

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"The Narrow Margin" uses many noir elements we've seen before, but the film seems not to be committed to its ambience.  The scenes are shot and played with all the right ingredients; big city, deep shadowy photography, night trains in enormous stations, workers casual enough with each other to brush ashes off one another's lapel, but there is a feeling of  reflexivity to the piece, as if it says, "We know this is what's expected of us, but we don't take it all that seriously."

 

The brash train whistle over the studio logo gives way to opening credits in tough blunt typeface and more realistic train sounds. The characters are travelling with tickets and train compartments from LA to NY and back again, firmly in the middle class, twitting the noir tradition of desperate souls fleeing trouble, catch-as-catch-can.  

 

The commonsensical, kindhearted friend, in the noir tradition of Tom D'Andrea in "Dark Passage" and "Tension," is also on board seemingly taking some of the noir edge off film, perhaps making it more palatable to the 1950s zeitgeist.  The men's dialogue in the cab is written hard-boiled, but the almost gratingly hard voice of Charles McGraw is just this side of parody, and his companion takes his tough talk lightly with a chuckle. 

 

After the "Sweeney Todd" whistle blast over the credits, this opening has none of the suspense of earlier noirs such as "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Le Bete Humaine." But it does generate enough interest to make us want to watch more.

 

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What I thought was interesting was the difference between the two detectives in this scene and how it detracts from our usual noir film beginning experience. Here we have two distinctively different men: one the hard-boiled, tough talking, cynical, and hard/fast driven, the other a more laid back man that doesn't portray the characteristics of the other. If the film started with just the character Charles McGraw portrays, we'd be getting a more noir feel from the beginning. However, with the second character softening the action, we don't get quite the same feeling. I hope that makes sense to someone!

McGraw's dialogue throughout the film did appear parody-like. It was if the writer was trying too hard to make him sound hard boiled, so now when people think about those types of characters, a person like McGraw's over the top hard boiled character comes to mind to the general viewer....not to those of us who have taken a much closer look at noir :-)

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Thank goodness, this daily dose is taking a different approach. I was tired of trying to find new, innovative ways of making the same comments on style, direction, post WWII issues, etc (just like the filmmakers of that time, lol). It was starting to get stale and repetitive. Anyway, I agree with many of Foster Hirsch’s points, not about 50’s noir in general, but definitely some of the negative points about this movie.

 

Anyway, I was very excited to see The Narrow Margin after reading that it was about a gangster’s widow, especially with the dynamic Marie Windsor in the cast. This is an actress that is so good in inciting hatred and, yet, piquing the audience member’s fascination with her power and sex appeal- which is exactly what a femme fatale should do. I was expecting something like Detour, Too Late for Tears, etc.

 

The film did start off promising with this dialogue at the opening:

Forbes: What about this dame, Mr. Crystal Ball?

Brown: A dish.

Forbes: What kind of a dish?

Brown: Sixty-cent special. Cheap, flashy, strictly poison under the gravy.

Forbes: Amazing! And how do you know all this?

Brown: Well, she was married to a hoodlum, wasn’t she? What kind of dame would marry a hood?

Forbes: All Kinds.

 

This exchange brought to mind shades of grey, possibly romance, something along the lines of Pickup on South Street, On Dangerous Ground, or the more contemporary Witness; of course being a B movie, I was expecting full blown artistry or complexity along the level of those movies, but maybe hints or at least small doses of it. Instead, we got what Foster Hirsch stated as a “play with noir's traditional iconographic depiction of women.”

 

I suppose the parody element Hirsch was referring was in the “description” that Brown was so sure would match the description of Mrs. Frankie Neall. It didn’t bother me since I knew the “dame” would turn out to be different even before the opening credits rolled. For me, what makes the “parody” element stick, is the great revelation that the extremely bland “Ann Sinclair,” the woman Brown was flirting with throughout the movie, turned out to be the actual Mrs. Frankie Neall all along. I suppose this was the film’s attempt to be progressive that “all kinds” of women, even “decent” women could get involved, but it’s just not believable.  

 

The movie, as is, still entertaining and does have the film noir style, but not a shred of what makes the film noir narrative so great and memorable: no complexity, moral ambiguity, character development or conflicts. Instead, we have the Madonna-**** theme going on, making Hollywood’s stereotypical image of the gangster wife in the form of Marie Windsor into someone so unfeeling, coldhearted, and rotten.

 

The above could’ve given rise to many possibilities like Brown wanting very badly to be rid of Mrs. Neall, possibly wanting to kill her ala Crime and Punishment style, or something like a precursor to Carmella Soprano: vain, materialistic, self-centered, but having something that will draw in the protagonist, make him question his profession, purpose, current morality, etc. I was particularly intrigued when it was revealed that Marie Windsor was actually a cop, too bad she was dead by the time this was revealed. What a waste, I would loved to have seen a female cop in action in a film noir.

 

Instead, we get spend a lot on Brown’s whimsical activities like the elusive quest for breakfast (which he gets to eat) or amusing the loudmouth kid of his supposed love interest, which is more akin to predictable romantic comedy than hard boiled noir. Boy, did RKO drop the ball on this one.

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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"?


These men are definetely tired, maybe it's the journey, maybe the case, maybe both. The dialogue is not bad and has some sarcastic moments. It's not Marlowe of course, but not a parody also. What seems strange is that the younger guy (who is supposed to be the tough guy) cares so much about the luggage or his partner's coat. They act like 2 salesmen on a business trip.


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?


Once again we see and hear the train, but this time there's no music. And that makes it neat and raw. 2 men came from LA to deal with something or someone – the business is no pleasure. The older guy tries to introduce some small talk, the other one seems bitter. It's like another routine job. We feel no tension.


Of course there's dark lighting, shadows, smoke.


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