The Narrow Margin, 1952, Richard Fleischer

Double Feature

Armored Car Robbery (1950)

Studio: RKO; Regie: Richard Fleischer; Drehbuch: Earl Felton, Gerald Drayson Adams, Robert Angus, Robert Leeds; Kamera: Guy Roe; Darsteller: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, William Talman, Douglas Fowley, Steve Brodie, Don McGuire, Don Haggerty. 35mm, sw, 67 min*

The Narrow Margin (1952)

Studio: RKO; Regie: Richard Fleischer; Drehbuch: Earl Felton, Martin Goldsmith, Jack Leonard; Kamera: George E. Diskant; Darsteller: Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White, Gordon Gebert, Queenie Leonard, David Clarke, Don Beddoe. 35mm, sw, 71 min**
Armored Car Robbery gehört zu einer Serie von abgebrühten Kriminalklassikern, die Richard Fleischer mit stilsicherer Perfektion während seiner frühen Jahre für RKO drehte. Obwohl der Hays Code explizite Gewaltdarstellungen in Kriminalfilmen verbot, zeigte Fleischer einen ebenso effizienten wie rücksichtslosen Polizeiapparat mit Charakterstudien wie sie zu jener Zeit nur in B-Filmen möglich waren. Mit seiner expliziten Einbettung lokaler Schauplätze rund um Los Angeles erinnert der Film an den populären Zyklus semi-dokumentarischer Krimis der späten 1940er und 1950erJahre. In The Narrow Margin sollen zwei Polizisten eine Gangster-Witwe zur entscheidenden Zeugenaussage von Chicago nach Los Angeles begleiten. Noch bevor sie den Bahnhof erreichen, wird einer der Beamten getötet und der andere weiß: Die Verfolger sind mit an Bord. Inbegriff von B-Picture-Perfektion, das Hochspannungs-Sujet auf engstem Raum verdichtet. Jeder Passagier, jede Spiegelung, jeder Zwischenstopp birgt eine mögliche Bedrohung, von Richard Fleischer entsprechend schnörkellos-rasant inszeniert, garniert mit schlagfertigen Dialogen, vor allem zwischen dem Cop und seinem frechen Schützling. (H. G./C. H.)
*Print courtesy of Cinémathèque Française
**Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive

Aus dem Katalog zur Retrospektive:

Armored Car Robbery is just one in a series of violent crime dramas directed with crisp efficiency by Richard Fleischer during his early years at RKO. An important first expression of the heist film genre held at bay by the crumbling Hays Code – which had long prohibited overly detailed depictions of criminal acts – Armored Car Robbery came out the same year as John Huston's seminal expression of the genre, The Asphalt Jungle, yet stands in stark, stripped down contrast to Huston's soulful peon to the defeated underdog. Fleischer instead delivers a swift and cold-blooded depiction of ruthlessly efficient police and criminal apparatuses set into contrapuntal motion, with William Talman's harder than hard-boiled mastermind pitted against Charles McGraw's two-fisted copper, an intense face-off of indelible character actors only possible in the feverish trenches of B-film production. Making great use of Los Angeles area locations, Armored Car Robbery bears affinities with the popular cycle of lowbudget semi-documentary crime films that flourished in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (Haden Guest)

Compression and forward momentum were key to many of the strongest RKO film noir titles. Richard Fleischer was a master of the fleet and compact as demonstrated by this highly celebrated noir The Narrow Margin, shot in 13 days for 230,000 dollars, running an energizing 71 minutes on screen. After a string of impressive secondary roles (in Siodmak's The Killers and Mann's T-Men) Fleischer elevated the charismatically gruff Charles McGraw to his first starring role in Armored Car Robbery (1950) as a Los Angeles Police detective. In The Narrow Margin along with his partner, McGraw's detective Sgt. Brown begrudgingly accepts the assignment to safeguard a racketeer's widow as she makes a furtive journey by train out of Chicago. Destination: Los Angeles, where she will testify before a Grand Jury unless a bullet stops her cold. The train is a steam powered traveling theater of masquerades and fluctuating appearances, unidentified syndicate killers and unlikely allies. The embittered McGrath embarks on this mobile hall of mirrors, in mourning, alert to danger, not always ungracious. The punishing trip takes its toll leading to an equivocal salvation. Under police watch is the serrated Marie Windsor, "Queen of the Bs". A sultry short fused fireball of caustic complaint, strategically rubbing up against the flinty McGraw with frictive hostile sparks. A strange enmity the distance of the journey will not soften. Spilling her string of pearls, jabbing with acid barbs, defiantly blaring music on her portable phonograph, Windsor's every move is a provocation that teases catastrophe. Fleischer and the great cinematographer George E. Diskant (he created the tonalities of contrasting radiance in Nick Ray's transcendental On Dangerous Ground) make the most of the lively balance between the interior design of the train and the external landscape. Diskant is often mobilizing the camera mounted on a shoulder brace for flexible movements within highly confined spaces. Perhaps one of the reasons Fleischer was so adept with split screens in The Boston Strangler is that he was able to conceive of multi-plane effects, oscillating viewpoints and natural superimpositions within a single screen composition. Without a doubt the story that unfolds in The Narrow Margin and the vocal interplay between the actors is riveting entertainment. But after the opening RKO logo (where the trademark staccato high frequency radio transmitter signals have been replaced by the piercing whistle of a speeding locomotive) try watching the film silent sometime for at least half the film. You will see the fantastic choreography of figures, modulating light, kinetic cuts, dissolves, wipes, pivoting motion and quick changing impressions. Every great sound film is first a great silent film in the editing and The Narrow Margin is a tour de force. "The final result of the film represents what I thought at the time was the crowning moment of my style. I had finally found it and was able to bring it to the screen the way I wanted." Richard Fleischer (Mark McElhatten)

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