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NARROW MARGIN, a story and personal review

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Harry-N, Jan 7, 2018.

  1. Harry-N

    Harry-N Cinematographer

    Aug 9, 2003
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    Sunny Central Florida
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    Harry N.
    While surfing through some broadcast channels last weekend, I stopped on an image of a train with some people chasing Gene Hackman. As a train fan, I’m always somewhat interested in movies that take place on a train, and this was one I didn’t recognize. The channel was one of those that runs older movies, maybe GRIT or THIS, I forget, but I looked up to see what movie it was. I’d never seen it before and thought I might be interested in either streaming it or finding it on disc. The film’s name was NARROW MARGIN.

    I looked it up quickly on IMDB and found out that it was a 1990 movie. In the past year, I’d become enamored of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, so I thought this might be another Hackman movie that I might like. I noted that the director was Peter Hyams and Hackman’s co-star was Anne Archer. Hyams was familiar from OUTLAND and CAPRICORN ONE and HANOVER STREET and 2010, all favorites of mine. So rather than rent it from a streaming service, I opted to buy a copy.

    The first thing I discovered was that there was no Blu-ray. OK, so let’s check DVDs. There appeared to be two or three of those, I’m not sure. It appeared that one had been released in the early days of DVD, 1998, and a reissue appeared in 2009. Reviews – even mentions – here on HTF were few and far between. Actually there were no reviews of any kind. And mentions were often in the negative.

    Undaunted, I found some rather high prices for DVDs on Amazon so I checked eBay. There I found what looked like the 2009 issue in supposedly good shape for a mere $7.99. This appeared do-able, so I placed my order.

    Coincidentally, another surf through the local TV channels had me stopping on what looked like another train movie. No, it was a subway, and that was Nicolas Cage I spotted. The channel was in Spanish, so I wasn’t getting any help there, but with a bit of research, I found that this movie was called KNOWING and had been made in 2009. The premise looked interesting here too, even though it wasn’t really a train movie, the subway scene looked fascinating. This was another that wanted to see and again a disc was in order. Blu-ray was an option, and reviews were very positive for the Blu-ray as a near reference-quality disc. So an order through Amazon prime would have it in my hands in just two days.

    As the week proceeded, I anticipated the two movies that I was about to discover. One would be a reference-quality Blu-ray. The other had so little information about it, I wasn’t even sure if it would be an anamorphic widescreen transfer. There was just no information out there. Was NARROW MARGIN that bad? That forgettable? Was it a film that was so bad or under the radar that even Gene Hackman couldn’t elevate it?

    As expected, KNOWING arrived first. The wife and I watched it and were favorably impressed. The Blu-ray was indeed reference quality and looked superb on our 60” Sony.

    The eBay purchase of NARROW MARGIN wouldn’t be here for a few more days at that point, and I checked the shipping information a few times over the next few days. One estimate said Jan. 9th, one said Jan. 5th. And I got the feeling that the ugly winter weather might delay such a package. It arrived yesterday, the 6th.

    I was surprised when I opened the package. The DVD was still sealed and contained in a slipcase. I never expected that. The cardboard slipcase had a Walmart sticker on it and a leftover price sticker of $4.99. So I suppose the seller picked it up in a $5 bin and resold it on eBay. That’s fine with me, the price was reasonable enough.

    Inside the slipcase, the sealed keep-case had different artwork and a different UPC sticker covered over the one printed underneath. The keep-case insert indicated that the package was from Artisan and Canal+ Distribution. The slipcase said Lionsgate and Studio Canal.

    The disc agreed with the keep-case insert, but also had an oddity about it. Around the hub was an indicator that said in big red letters WIDESCREEN and what appeared to be an old side designation of 1.A.

    From all of this information, I’m deducing that:

    - The film had been released on a flipper disc in 1998 where one side was widescreen and the other was a 4:3 transfer.
    - Lionsgate repackaged the old Artisan widescreen side in 2009 by slapping a label on the disc, putting it in a slipcase, and giving it a new UPC code.

    I was at least happy to see that at least the insert mention “Enhanced for 16x9 widescreen televisions” as I was more concerned with getting some crappy letterbox edition.

    So last evening we watched NARROW MARGIN. I was rather impressed, and so was my wife. There was a lot of good action sequences, I found the train photography quite good, and the scenery in western Canada was gorgeous.

    This being a DVD, the image appeared soft at times with occasional jaggies on some long shots, but nothing that would take one out of the movie. The scenes on interiors of buildings had a warm glow, while exterior night shots of the train seemed properly bluish.

    I was impressed with some of Hyams’ establishing shots as a scene would finish and go to black, then a shot of the train in its scenery would start the next scene. The establishing shots were quite inventive, with things like headlights illuminating the rails around a curve before that actual train came into view.

    Having seen part of the ending on that TV showing a week prior, I knew that there was a chase scene on the top of the train as it’s moving through the Canadian Rockies. And it looked ever so much better on this DVD than on that 4:3 subchannel.

    In researching what little I could find on this movie, I fear I’ve stumbled upon another remake of an older highly regarded film. THE NARROW MARGIN was made back in the early fifties and seems to get high marks from those who’ve seen it, and their opinion of the Hyams/Hackman remake is colored by that. I’ve run into that scenario with THE WAGES OF FEAR and SORCERER, having seen the remake before the earlier film, and my opinion is favorable toward the remake. Someday I’ll seek out THE NARROW MARGIN from the fifties, but for right now, I’m happy to have found the 1990 film.

    I’m including some screenshots from the DVD here so that someone in my position later on might have a reference as to what to expect. I don’t know if NARROW MARGIN will ever make it to Blu-ray, given the indifference I detect out there.

    Title screen

    Anne Archer in the shadows about to witness a murder.

    Gene Hackman with M.Emmet Walsh at the cabin at which Archer went into hiding

    The beautiful Canadian Rockies

    Trying to purchase a quick set of train tickets. Notice the scene is backlit. That seems a recurring motif in the movie.

    The Canadian VIA Rail about to depart with Hackman trying to decoy.

    Lovely bridge scene. We train geeks love this stuff!

    ...and that segues to a gorgeous night shot.

    Look how the streamline train lines are mirrored in the station building.

    A typical shot in one of the train compartments as Hackman and Archer discuss plans.

    I loved this backlit night shot as the passing lights illuminate the scene and plunge it into darkness.

    Inside a tunnel, we view the oncoming train by the headlight reflecting in the rails.

    Hackman and James B. Sikking, one of the bad guys.

    What's a train movie without people running around on the roof?
  2. Robin9

    Robin9 Producer

    Dec 13, 2006
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    The original film, The Narrow Margin with Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor, is commonly recognised as a classic crime film made on a small budget. The remake, Narrow Margin, did not arouse much enthusiasm when it first came out, but I enjoyed it a lot. It was essentially a "re-imagining" of the original and, in my opinion, an entirely valid film. If either film was released on Blu-ray disc, I'd buy it immediately.
    atfree and Nick*Z like this.
  3. albert_m2

    albert_m2 Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 13, 2013
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    I have the older release of the 1990 version. I haven't watched the disc in some time, but I like the movie. I don't think it could be called great, or excellent, but it's solid for the kind of film that it is and I would think that any Hackman fan would like it too.

    I would buy it on blu ray.
  4. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

    Feb 8, 2002
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    I haven't seen it for years, but I recall reviewing NM for my college newspaper. I gave it a positive review, I believe. I think I have the DVD somewhere in the stacks.

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