A tough cop meets his match when he has to guard a gangster's widow on a tense train ride.
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When a mobster's widow decides to testify and provide names of others involved in evil deeds, she goes undercover to avoid being killed. She is being escorted across country by train in order to testify. Cop Walter Brown and his partner are assigned the task, but the mob are on their trail.
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Trains have it all over ships and planes when it comes to creating a microcosm. On an airplane, everybody's crammed together; nobody can sneak on or leave (except by parachute or defenestration). An ocean liner has its private staterooms and public spaces, but, again, is an island, entire onto itself. But trains stop regularly to take on and disgorge passengers, and they run along their fixed and earthbound course, with windows looking out on rivers and highways, at big cities at high noon and small towns in the dead of night. And so they've always been the preferred vehicle for suspense, with countless thrillers using the rails as their setting. One of the tautest and most toothsome, in its modest, low-budget way, is Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin. nnIt opens in Chicago, where a pair of Los Angeles police detectives are to escort the widow (Marie Windsor) of a recently slain gang leader back to the coast to testify before a grand jury. She's a hard case (`a 60-cent special...poison under the gravy'), and guarding her is a dangerous job. Sure enough, one of the cops takes a fatal bullet in the stairway of her low-rent apartment house (she shows scant sympathy). Windsor's finally smuggled aboard the train, in a Pullman car's locked compartment adjoining that of her custodian Charles McGraw. Almost certainly, one or more mobsters followed her. It's up to McGraw to smoke them out before they kill Windsor, who knows too much. But he slowly learns that some vital information has been deliberately kept from him....nnFleischer makes inventive use of the jostling in the cramped passageways and of the all but vanished rituals of club cars and dining cars. He packs the train with seasoned character actors, notable among them Jacqueline White, Paul (`Nobody loves a fat man') Maxie, and Don Beddoe. The closely worked script, by Earl Fenton (based on a novel by Martin Goldsmith, who also penned the original material for Detour), doesn't stint on gaudy patter for them to spout (it's a moveable feast of salty epigrams). nn Best of all, The Narrow Margin offers the addictive Marie Windsor her meatiest role, showcasing her tough-gal talents. Rolling her huge and extraordinary eyes, she aims her exhaled smoke like a stream of deadly gas and hard-boils her lines into hand grenades (to McGraw: `This train's headed straight for the cemetery. But there's another train coming along a gravy train. Let's get on it.'). It's one of Hollywood's more perplexing secrets why Windsor toiled exclusively, with the possible exception of her Sherry Peatty in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, in the B-movie ghetto. But she helped make that ghetto the liveliest part of Tinsel Town.
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