Death, drama, and danger boarded the night express to Los Angeles in Chicago. Close behind them came a handful of unknown actors and a crew of skilled cameramen. All stayed on to the end of the line, and 90 minutes later, RKO walked off the train with a four-star film in its pocket and only a small dent in its poke.
The Narrow Margin proves what purists have been shouting for a long time--movies should move more and talk less. It also proves that it doesn't take technicolor, a million dollars, and an array of extras to make a picture that will sell. It only takes a good director and a smart editor.
Almost all of the action in this story of John Law vs. the Syndicate takes place aboard a train. Yet by adroit shooting of new angles, the cameramen arranged a visual effect that never bores and never repeats. The work is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's best.
The story is simply what happens when an honest cop tries to take a star witness, widow of a notorious Capone-like character, to the coast to testify before the Grand Jury. Naturally, the boys in Chi would rather this moll didn't live to sing. But uncorruptible and battling, if a little dim-witted, the forces of virtue and justice win out.
The seedy sketch of a plot in no way detracts from the high pitch of excitement, sounded in the first dark scene and never lowered, even at the end. Rather, its sparsity gives the characters and the director complete freedom to handle now-hackneyed sequences with new concepts of suspense. Dialogue is kept at a minimum, and action at an unswerving peak. Close-ups, usually a dangerous gimmick, successfully convey the desired note here as the actors act natural, a rare phenomenon in modern movies.
The production of The Narrow Margin, which successfully disproves Hollywood's old-ideas of good movie making, is an indication of the trend the industry is now starting to combat enemies like television which have been taking huge bites in box office returns. There is an economy move sweeping the world's glamour capital that would warm the heart of Congress. With this new move is going a nation-wide search for talent, and a general firing and salary cutting process that is shaking the foundations of many of Beverly Hills' swank shacks. The results can do the industry no harm. It has suffered a bad five years. Although slow to come back, this picture hints that its top technical skill, combined with some fresh imagination, will make the nation-wide habit of moviegoing once more a rewarding experience.