Brandon started his "essentials" posts a couple of years ago now (though he hasn't had any recently). It's about time I imitated his example.
The Narrow Margin is essential.
I admit to being predisposed to like it.
I lived right next to a train station for about half of my life.
I love train movies. The Lady Vanishes might be my favorite Hitchcock film. I'm the only one in CR5FC to defend Unstoppable. I'd love to get the chance to see James Benning's RR. I sometimes spend half an afternoon meditating on the idea of RR. I often dream of trains.
The train is the constant presence in Narrow Margin. The sound of it is always present. The narrow confines of the train naturally limit the action; the environment bottles up actualities until the pressure is unbearable. Within this space and this time, something MUST surely happen.
A gangster's widow is willing to testify in a court of law. Ruthless men are willing to kill her to prevent this. One policeman, Detective Seargent Walter Brown, is charged with stopping this from happening. He doesn't like the woman he's protecting. He doesn't like his situation.
Narrow Margin rides the noir rails right to the end. Characters are never quite what they seem. Black and white are all mixed up in shades of gray (or maybe Brown?). The world, unlike the train, goes off the rails at times.
Brown does what is right because it's right. Decidedly not because he likes it. It's often a character flaw (often a weakness for a woman) that gets noir men in trouble. Just as often, the strong noir men are strong because they've clung to a moral code even when it doesn't feel good and is not easy.
This widow doesn't seem to deserve kindness. Her existence and predicament are the cause of Brown's partner's death. A good man dies. A worthless woman lives.
Brown knows that it is his job to risk his life for the worst of the worst.
He knows that compromising his code to give up the worst, even to give them over to the natural conclusion of what their life has been, is worse than death. Given a task, a man must perform it with integrity.
So, the code is still black and white. There's often only a narrow margin between the two colors, but the distinction remains. The world in which this code is played out, however, is a wash of gray.
Finally, isn't Marie Windsor one of the greatest actresses ever?
Don't read anything else about this film. Avoid spoilers. Watch it because I told you to. Because out of all the movies out there, this one is... Essential.