May 7, 1952 [The Narrow Margin]

Charles McGraw’s cop in The Narrow Margin walks around like he’s at home--except something’s always ready to turn on him. His voice sounds like his name--or vice versa--and I could listen to him all night long growl at everybody--because nobody gets it, he has to handle everything himself, and you’d growl, too, if you had to take it like he does.

He has to protect the witness, get her from Chicago to L.A.--and along the way proves that this is one of the best-named movies in the history of cinema, a knowing title, nodding to the train tracks themselves, the passageways and sleepers--and the escapes: all narrow, almost too cramped to let the camera in: There’s a desperate brawl that threatens to poke the audience in the eye, we have to get so close, the lens a fist, the two men grunting in silence--while the train clacks along, the only sound--no music this time around, just the train, with us jostling our way, flinching at the close calls and final payoffs--and the usual double-crosses, the cop getting the business even from other cops. Richard Fleisher directs with the kind of genius the movies sometimes rewards: a visual imagination, a cool boldness that doesn’t permit him to think he can’t pull it off--because he does, and not narrowly.


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