Monday, April 14, 2008

Intrigue on a train, in glorious black-and-white

The April rain turned the baseball diamond into a mud puddle Friday night, so I grabbed a burger and headed home. Plopped down in front of the TV and enjoyed a great little film noir classic from 1952 called "The Narrow Margin."

Tightly directed by Richard Fleischer (who would later go on to helm the Disney version of "20,000 Leagues under the Sea"), the action takes place on a train headed from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Detective Sgt. Walter Brown (Charles McGraw) is assigned to escort a mobster's wife (Marie Windsor) to testify before a grand jury. Oops, but his partner gets killed and the bad guys know that Mrs. Neall is on the train, too.

But as is the case with these kind of films, nothing is quite what it seems. I should have seen the proverbial twist coming from a mile away, but I didn't.

McGraw is excellent as the sterotypical police detective and Windsor shines in her surprising role. "The Narrow Margin" is a very simple film in terms of plot. What makes it enjoyable is the atmosphere and the characters -- highlights of any good film in this genre.

The film also rekindled my passion for passenger trains, which have as you know all but vanished from the United States, other than in the northeast. I drove to Nashville earlier in the year to attend a baseball banquet and wished so much that I could have driven to the L&N and hopped a Pullman to the Music City. (Now that gas is $3.16 a gallon it makes me really wish I could do so.)

Ahh, well. I guess that's what old movies are for. If you could do it in real life, it wouldn't look near as romantic in glorious black-and-white.

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