On "No Down Payment": Anne said...This is what makes me wonder if Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens'scharacters had even consumated thier marriageThe kid's got a broken radio, Jeff pulls out a screw driver and sets to work.Tony Randall gets smarmy with Jeff's wife and he's a frozen bystander...if Tony was mashing a radio, I think Jeff's character would have sprun into action. March 9, 2013
On "Trooper Hook": Vienna said...Wonderful review ! I haven't seen TROOPER HOOK for a long time but hope it becomes available on DVD. You describe Joel and Barbara's characters so well. An unusual role for Barbara. I guess she chose to do it for that reason. March 11, 2013
Anne said...Thank you for writing about this little gemOne can see this film on the encore west channel now and then and it's astonishingly good. With a budget not enough for a modern office pastry cart, it shows what can be done with excellent writing and acting....and directing. I love how we see the tiny stage from afar, then we see it though Nanches legs, we are right behind him, and we now know he's on their trail...it makes him almost a gonzilla of a threatChildren: let Mr. McCrea and Ms Stanwyck show you how it's done.They are hotter across a dusty feed store than many buck necked couples in love scenes today.March 7, 2013
On "Any Number Can Play": Vienna said...I love this film. Great cast, though I hate seeing Audrey Totter so totally wasted. All Audrey seemed to do was stand around with a glass in one hand and cigarette in the other.I thought Alexis Smith did well ,playing a woman whom I 'm sure was meant to be older than Alexis who was probably about 30 at the time.Great to see Mary Astor though,again, what a small role. And Marjorie Rambeau is always a joy.It could have been a play, with the only sets the gambling club and Gable's house.An unusual role for Gable and he was convincing.March 1, 2013
On Anita Sharp-Bolster: Vienna said...I've just see Anita in THE LONDON BLACKOUT MURDERS and she is so good as another battle-axe character , but with a touch of comedy . Nice tribute. Thanks.http//:dancing lady39.wordpress.com February 2, 2013
On Victor Jory - On Stage and Screen: Vienna said...Thanks for great tribute to Victor Jory whom I like, especially in a couple of films where he isn't the villain! In FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS, Victor does his best to help Randolph Scott and becomes a good friend to Scott's character. Such a contrast to Victor's usual roles. I also liked him in a little B, THE UNKNOWN GUEST where he is the leading manI had no idea Victor and Alexis Smith did two plays together - thanks for the information. Oh to have seen them!January 24, 2013
On And Then There Were None: Ryan said...I bought this years ago on DVD, and it's still my favorite movie version of this story. The cast was perfect, and to tell you the truth, though I love the book, I almost prefer this ending. I think it's the hopeless romantic in me.February 19, 2013
“The Narrow Margin” (1952) is a speeding bullet of a movie that stuns and entertains like no other B-noir. And that it happens almost entirely on a moving train is icing on the cake.
I do, however, wish it had a different title. When I was planning on using this film for our celebration of National Train Day, (Saturday, May 7th), I couldn’t remember the title of the movie. Took me forever to research enough scraps of cast names that I could recall to get it. If it had been called “That Train Movie with the Gangster’s Moll and the Gravelly-Voiced Guy Running from the Mobster with the Fur on His Coat Collar” I would have had no trouble locating this at all.
The premise of the film is simple. A pair of detectives in Chicago are assigned to escort a gangster’s moll to appear as a witness in court in Los Angeles. They take the train across the country. Bad guys are after her to shut her up. It's a race for their lives, a game of terminal (mind your head on the pun) hide and seek.
No sooner do we understand the gravity of the situation, when the senior detective, played by Don Beddoe, is shot dead, taking the bullet intended for the gangster’s moll. The other detective (with the gravelly voice) is played by Charles McGraw. Losing Beddoe is almost like losing his own father. There’s a nice bit where, cradling Beddoe in his arms, he brushes off Beddoe’s lapel that had cigar ash fall on it, a reprise of his similar protective flick of ash off Beddoe’s lapel when they talked in the cab ride earlier.
Torn up, and furious at the mouthy moll, played terrifically by Marie Windsor, McGraw has his work cut out for him now that he has to take this she-devil on to Los Angeles by himself. The bad guys do not know what she looks like because the police have been protecting her. They do know what McGraw looks like though, so they assume if they follow him on board the train, he will lead them to her.
A bit of a complication occurs when McGraw is seen conversing with another lady passenger, played by Jacqueline White. Love that first name. Has a ring to it.
Uh-oh, the gangsters mistakenly think Miss White is the moll they want to kill. McGraw realizes this, and as if the pressure wasn’t bad enough, now he must protect two women, one of whom does not even know her life in is danger.
That’s all you’re going to get from me on the plot. It has so many twists and turns, and is so fast paced, you’d need a scorecard to follow it. A few surprises occur that will be ruined if I say anything else. So, just a few observations of how the train in this movie IS the movie.
We start with the opening credits, a powerful locomotive zooms at us in the night, the title splashes in our faces, and we hear the clanging and train whistle. There is no musical score to this movie. The soundtrack is all train noises. At one point, the gangster’s moll file her nails with an emery board, in an extreme close-up. It mimics the rhythmic sound of the train as we dissolve to a close-up of the trains wheels. The train is alive.
Richard Fleischer, son of the noted animator Max Fleischer, who gave us Popeye and Betty Boop, directs this taut film. His creativity is delightful. In another scene, a body falls after being shot and inadvertently brushes against a record player, thereby turning it on to blast a bluesy requiem. The movie said to have been shot in 13 days, and you can believe it because the entire movie is constant motion.
There is the train, first and foremost, a world unto itself that flies by cities and towns, stops at a few of them, but never stays for long. There is also the inherent sociability of train travel, so different than with planes. We are seated in dining cars and lounge cars with strangers, and introductions naturally follow, conversations begin, and we enter other people’s lives. The rolling village is self contained, but you can get on and off whenever you feel like it.
This represents another conundrum for our gravelly-voiced McGraw. What bad guys are getting on the train where, and who are escaping by getting off?
Mr. McGraw is seen constantly running down the corridors of the train cars, a lot of cat-and-mouse deception with the bad guys. They try to search his compartment. He sneaks Miss Windsor out at one point to the ladies’ room, then hustles her back. She bolts down the corridor hugging her suitcase, dressed in a black negligee. Watching them running on the swaying train through narrow corridors is one of the most entertaining parts of this movie.
At one point, one of the mob henchman and McGraw duke it out in the men’s room. We have several minutes of no dialogue, just shoving each other’s mugs into sinks, punching, and at one point McGraw kicks right towards the camera and we get the bottom of his gumshoe in our faces.
A little boy on board, played by Gordon Gebert (you’ll remember him as the Janet Leigh’s son in “Holiday Affair” from our post here), has seen McGraw’s gun and takes him for a train robber. If McGraw thinks the mobsters are tenacious, they’ve got nothing on this little boy, who will not leave him alone.
Several peeks back into the compartment where Marie Windsor fumes, still in her black negligee, and waits for food. Her ugly attitude makes us hate her almost as much as McGraw does, or would if her snappy repartee weren’t so entertaining. At one point, McGraw tells her, “You make me sick to my stomach!” She fires back, “Well, use your own sink.”
They are either the worse enemies in the world, or they are like an old married couple. Their chemistry with each other is terrific.
Hide and seek continues, roaring through the West like destiny unleashed. A very large gentleman, who keeps bumping into McGraw and therefore, because of his girth in the narrow corridor, provides comic bits, is suddenly turned into a suspicious character when he innocently (or knowingly?) answers McGraw’s question of when they are to pull into the next scheduled stop.
The fat guy, played by Paul Maxey (who in credits in other movies is actually billed as the fat guy or the heavy gent), answers him politely, but suddenly, we have a flash of passing lights splashing across his serious expression and a startling shriek of train whistle. He holds the position, like a tableau, for several startling seconds. It’s as if the train is trying to tell us something about this guy.
Another treat about this movie is the many close-ups, probably because we are in such small quarters. We also get a lot of shots done through reflections in windows and mirrors, and the final climax features this device.
This is a movie to be experienced, not just watched. It was filmed in the last days of what we might think of as the glamorous era of train travel. “Union Pacific”, which we covered on yesterday’s post, showed us the beginnings, rough and hard, yet without the bleakness of this modern film noir.
Still, even with a gash in his head and the threat of murder around every narrow corner, a mouthy dame back in the compartment, and a small boy attacking him in the sleeper car, Charles McGraw can make this train trip seem snazzy and elegant.
Meet Me in Nuthatch - A publicity stunt to attract tourists to a small dying town results in the entire community turning the clock back to 1904. It is local Christmas tree farmer Everett Campbell’s idea, after watching the film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” his young daughter’s new favorite movie. What begins as half practical joke and half desperate ploy initiates the rebirth of Nuthatch, Massachusetts. Tourists do come, along with the media. To Everett’s dismay, his campaign to save their community results in also attracting representatives of a chain of theme parks who want to buy Nuthatch 1904. Everett now stands to lose his town in a way he never imagined, and the community is divided on which alternate future to choose. A local drug dealer, the longtime enemy of Everett, may hold their future in his hands unless Everett can pull off his most spectacular, and dangerous, practical joke.
“…a comforting, pleasant read that stays with you even after the last page is turned. After finishing the book, I found myself still musing about the relationships and how they'd changed and progressed. This book was a nice, hot chocolate sort of read.” Grace Krispy, "MotherLode" blog book review.
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