In 1952 RKO Pictures would release a low-budget thriller called The Narrow Margin. Starring Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White, the film at the time was meant to be just another cheap B-Movie. It was supposed to fill a double-feature bill in theaters, give moviegoers about an hour of entertainment and be forgotten.
The premise is simple enough – a witness who is ready to testify against some powerful mobsters has boarded a train headed to the grand jury Los Angeles. She and Detective Brown, the cop assigned to protect her, have been followed by some heavies who have orders to silence her.
Fortunately, they haven’t been able to ID the woman, but they do know Brown. Now he’s forced into playing a dangerous cat and mouse game with these hoods onboard this moving train. Can Brown outsmart these goons and keep the witness alive from Chicago to L.A. or is this train heading to a dead end for both of them?
We’ve heard this story before – a cop protecting a witness – but thanks to the performances by the actors, the suspenseful, unique locomotive setting and the tight direction by Richard Fleischer The Narrow Margin would attain a respected status through the years and become regarded as one of the best low-budget films of all time and a classic film noir.
Almost forty years later The Narrow Margin would get its Hollywood remake. Starring Gene Hackman, Anne Archer and James Sikking, Narrow Margin would update the ‘witness needs protecting on a moving train’ story.
Director Peter Hyams changes the characters, but the story remains essentially the same. This time it’s not a cop who has his hands full onboard the train, but Caulfield the prosecutor played by Hackman. He’s forced into this predicament and has to everything he can to make sure he and Archer’s witness survive this train journey.
I take a look at 1952’s The Narrow Margin and the 1990 remake which drops the “The” from its title – and see what else it does with this suspenseful story and how it compares to the original film.