Narrow Margin (1990)

R | 97 mins | Drama | 21 September 1990

Director:

Peter Hyams

Writer:

Peter Hyams

Cinematographer:

Peter Hyams

Production Designer:

Joel Schiller

Production Company:

Carolco Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Narrow Margin was filmed in the Canadian Rockies, within the province of British Columbia. Producer Jonathan A. Zimbert recounted that the production needed a passenger train and empty tracks for three months. Five coach cars, two “vista dome” cars, and a dining car were leased from Denver Railway Car Companypany in Colorado. After being hauled by truck to Kansas City, MO, the stainless steel railway cars, which had been in storage for several years, were brought up to 1989 standards, a task that required three weeks. Then the railway cars were taken to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they were joined by a baggage car provided by Via Rail, Canada’s passenger train service; a sleeper car leased from a Texas train enthusiast; and a B-unit and engine from British Columbia Rail, the company that owned the tracks that were used in the production. Once assembled, the exteriors of the twelve cars were painted with Via Rail’s blue and yellow colors. Rail car interiors were built in a Vancouver warehouse on Euclid Avenue, with removable walls and an underlying platform resting on inflated inner tubes, allowing the sets to sway. The final sequence, in which the main characters walked and fought on top of moving rail cars, took three weeks to shoot, using close-ups of actors Gene Hackman, Anne Archer, James Sikking, and Susan Hogan intercut with wider shots of stunt men and women. Archer told the 16 Sep 1990 Newsday they were secured by hidden cables, but she nonetheless dreaded the rooftop scenes because cables “can pull limbs from your body.” The complicated scenes were filmed near ... More Less

According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Narrow Margin was filmed in the Canadian Rockies, within the province of British Columbia. Producer Jonathan A. Zimbert recounted that the production needed a passenger train and empty tracks for three months. Five coach cars, two “vista dome” cars, and a dining car were leased from Denver Railway Car Companypany in Colorado. After being hauled by truck to Kansas City, MO, the stainless steel railway cars, which had been in storage for several years, were brought up to 1989 standards, a task that required three weeks. Then the railway cars were taken to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they were joined by a baggage car provided by Via Rail, Canada’s passenger train service; a sleeper car leased from a Texas train enthusiast; and a B-unit and engine from British Columbia Rail, the company that owned the tracks that were used in the production. Once assembled, the exteriors of the twelve cars were painted with Via Rail’s blue and yellow colors. Rail car interiors were built in a Vancouver warehouse on Euclid Avenue, with removable walls and an underlying platform resting on inflated inner tubes, allowing the sets to sway. The final sequence, in which the main characters walked and fought on top of moving rail cars, took three weeks to shoot, using close-ups of actors Gene Hackman, Anne Archer, James Sikking, and Susan Hogan intercut with wider shots of stunt men and women. Archer told the 16 Sep 1990 Newsday they were secured by hidden cables, but she nonetheless dreaded the rooftop scenes because cables “can pull limbs from your body.” The complicated scenes were filmed near Howe Sound and in Cheakamus Canyon, roughly fifty miles north of Vancouver, and could only be filmed for a couple of hours at a time, because of regularly scheduled trains passing through.
       Principal photography began 12 Jun 1989, according to that day’s edition of DV, and was completed in Oct 1989, the 23 Oct 1989 DV noted.
       Narrow Margin was a remake of a 1952 RKO Radio picture titled The Narrow Margin (see entry). The original, which ran only seventy minutes, cost $230,000, whereas the 1990 film was budgeted at $21 million and ran nearly thirty minutes longer. In the original, the witness was “Mrs. Neall,” a gangster’s widow being escorted by train from Chicago, IL, to Los Angeles. CA, to testify against the mob, but because of a decoy, her identity was not revealed to the audience until near the end. The remake turned Mrs. Neall into “Carol Hunnicut,” an innocent woman who simply witnessed a mob killing at the film’s beginning. The original protector was policeman “Detective Sgt. Walter Brown” (Charles McGraw) rather than “Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield.” All other character names were also changed. Producer Jonathan A. Zimbert told the 16 Sep 1990 LAT that the remake’s most significant plot changes were made to accommodate the diminishment of passenger train travel since 1952. “Rail travel was the norm” when RKO set The Narrow Margin aboard a Chicago-to-Los Angeles express, Zimbert said, but “Who rides the train anymore?” The solution was to force the protagonists to board a train in the wilderness with “no place to get off.” Zimbert added that the filmmakers considered shooting Narrow Margin in Mexico, but discovered that many train riders there are peasants, “some of them transporting cattle and chickens,” and that the America characters “wouldn’t exactly have blended in.”
       The Nov 1990 Box reported that Narrow Margin “derailed” during its second week, and grossed only $6.6 million during its first ten days.
       End credits contain the following acknowledgments: “The filmmakers gratefully acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of Via Rail Canada/Bill Coo; B.C. Rail; Four Seasons Hotel; Los Angeles Times; Randy Parton; British Columbia Film Commission; Environment Canada; Western Canada Wilderness Committee; Glenbow Museum, Calgary; The Confederation Life Collection; Albert G. Ruben & Company, Inc.; Complete Film Corporation.” More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Nov 1990.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jun 1989
p. 3
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1989
p. 3
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1990
p. 2, 22
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Sep 1990
p. 10, 19
Los Angeles Times
16 Sep 1990
Calendar, p. 21
Los Angeles Times
21 Sep 1990
p. 8
New York Times
21 Sep 1990
p. 10
Newsday (Long Island, NY)
16 Sep 1990
p. 15
Screen International
2 Sep 1989.
---
The Vancouver Sun
14 Oct 1989
Section H, p. 1
Variety
17 Sep 1990
p. 97
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna Present
A Jonathan A. Zimbert Production
A Peter Hyams Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
DGC trainee
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Trainee
Video asst
Steadicam op
Aerial op
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Company grip
Chief lighting tech
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Supv art ed
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst film ed
Apprentice film ed
Negative cutting by
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Rigging gaffer
Prop master
Asst prop master
Head painter
Const foreman
Head greensman
COSTUMES
Ms. Archer's cost des
Costumer
Costumer
MUSIC
Mus ed
Orch
Scoring mixer
Mus contractor
Mus rec at
Re-rec at
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Addl audio
Addl audio
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Rec facility supv
Foley artist
Foley artist
Foley mixer
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Dolby Stereo consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Process coord
Process projectionist
Process projectionist
Process projectionist
Process projectionist
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Ms. Archer's hairstylist
Make-up artist
Ms. Archer's make-up artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Helicopter coord & pilot
Pilot
Train movement supv
Gun handler
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Prod office coord
Asst prod office coord
Prod asst
Quality control
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Asst to Mr. Zimbert
Asst to Mr. Hyams
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Los Angeles casting
Extras casting
STAND INS
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the picture The Narrow Margin, screenplay by Earl Felton, Jr., story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard (RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 1952).
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 September 1990
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 21 September 1990
New York opening: week of 21 September 1990
Production Date:
12 June - mid October 1989
Copyright Claimant:
Carolco Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 October 1990
Copyright Number:
PA483082
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses
Filmed in Panavision®
Lenses
Lenses and Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
97
Length(in feet):
8,712
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

On a blind date, Carol Hunnicut inadvertently witnesses the murder of attorney Michael Tarlow in his Los Angeles, California, hotel suite by mobster Leo Watts and henchman Jack Wootton. Days later, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield and Homicide Detective Sergeant Dominic Benti interrupt Assistant D.A. Martin Larner’s conference with Deputy D.A. James Dahlbeck. Caulfield informs Larner that fingerprints found in Tarlow’s suite belong to a New York woman named Carol Hunnicut, who has been missing since the murder. Another woman reported Hunnicut missing, but telephoned back to say she found her. However, the woman later admitted to Benti that Carol Hunnicut witnessed Tarlow’s murder, and when she saw Leo Watts’s photograph in the newspaper the next day, she recognized him as one of the killers. Fearing for her life, Hunnicut is hiding at a remote Canadian location. Caulfield tells Assistant D.A. Larner that he has arranged to fly to Canada, hire a helicopter, and bring the witness back to Los Angeles. When Larner refuses to give authorization to pay for the trip, Caulfield insists that he and Sgt. Benti are going anyway. They helicopter over the Canadian Rockies, land at a cabin in the woods, and announce themselves. Carol Hunnicut answers the door, but claims she saw nothing and will not return to Los Angeles. Suddenly, another helicopter appears. Jack Wootton fires an automatic weapon, killing Benti and destroying Caulfield’s helicopter and its pilot. Robert Caulfield and Carol Hunnicut escape in her car, avoiding gunfire by following a fire lane through the thick forest. Seeing a train in a canyon below, Caulfield rushes to the next station and buys tickets to Vancouver. The private compartments are all ... +


On a blind date, Carol Hunnicut inadvertently witnesses the murder of attorney Michael Tarlow in his Los Angeles, California, hotel suite by mobster Leo Watts and henchman Jack Wootton. Days later, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Robert Caulfield and Homicide Detective Sergeant Dominic Benti interrupt Assistant D.A. Martin Larner’s conference with Deputy D.A. James Dahlbeck. Caulfield informs Larner that fingerprints found in Tarlow’s suite belong to a New York woman named Carol Hunnicut, who has been missing since the murder. Another woman reported Hunnicut missing, but telephoned back to say she found her. However, the woman later admitted to Benti that Carol Hunnicut witnessed Tarlow’s murder, and when she saw Leo Watts’s photograph in the newspaper the next day, she recognized him as one of the killers. Fearing for her life, Hunnicut is hiding at a remote Canadian location. Caulfield tells Assistant D.A. Larner that he has arranged to fly to Canada, hire a helicopter, and bring the witness back to Los Angeles. When Larner refuses to give authorization to pay for the trip, Caulfield insists that he and Sgt. Benti are going anyway. They helicopter over the Canadian Rockies, land at a cabin in the woods, and announce themselves. Carol Hunnicut answers the door, but claims she saw nothing and will not return to Los Angeles. Suddenly, another helicopter appears. Jack Wootton fires an automatic weapon, killing Benti and destroying Caulfield’s helicopter and its pilot. Robert Caulfield and Carol Hunnicut escape in her car, avoiding gunfire by following a fire lane through the thick forest. Seeing a train in a canyon below, Caulfield rushes to the next station and buys tickets to Vancouver. The private compartments are all taken, but an elderly couple offers to give up their compartment in Car A when Hunnicut feigns being pregnant and having morning sickness. Caulfield tells her to lock herself in the compartment before the killers can see her face. Jack Wootton and his accomplice, Nelson, arrive and buy tickets. As the train begins moving and Robert Caulfield walks through a compartment car corridor, he sees the killers and ducks into another compartment where a woman sits with her young son, Nicholas. Caulfield pretends to be confused about his ticket until the killers walk past the door. He returns to his own compartment to tell Hunnicut the killers are on board, and she blames Caulfield for putting her in danger. When the conductor knocks, Nelson is with him, claiming he left his briefcase in the compartment, but does not see Hunnicut because she is hiding in the compartment bathroom. As the train stops at the next station, Caulfield sees a family leaving a compartment in Car C. He hides Carol in Car A’s men’s room and walks outside. A blonde, Kathryn Weller, smiles at Caulfield as she boards the train. Caulfield telephones James Dahlbeck, explains his situation, and warns him not to tell Martin Larner, whom he suspects of working for Leo Watts. When Caulfield mentions that the train will be stopping in Monashee at midnight, Dahlbeck promises that Canadian Mounted Police will meet him. Meanwhile, Wootton steals the conductor’s master key, enters Caulfield’s Car A compartment, and finds it empty. As the train continues, Caulfield spirits Hunnicut from the men’s restroom in Car A and stashes her in the Car C compartment. While getting food in the crowded club car, Caulfield is greeted by Kathryn Weller. Exchanging small talk with the attractive woman, Caulfield watches the assassins at the end of the car. When the men leave, he excuses himself and follows. A heavyset man named Keller fills the corridor, forcing Caulfield to squeeze past him. Ahead, in a compartment car, the conductor stops Nelson and Wootton and sends them back to the coaches. To avoid being seen, Caulfield dives into a sleeping berth and calms a lady passenger until the killers pass by. He rejoins Carol Hunnicut and tries to convince her to testify by reminding her that \Sgt. Benti and the helicopter pilot died trying to save her. At midnight, the train arrives at Monashee. With the compartment lights off, Robert Caulfield scans the station platform and sees two men in suits. He tells Hunnicut to lock the door, then goes outside. Keller, the fat man, steps off the train and watches him approach Nigro and Loughlin. The men identify themselves as Canadian Mounties, but Caulfield catches them in a mistake that reveals they are not policemen. Excusing himself to use the bathroom, he goes to a public telephone, but the cord is cut. Loughlin follows Caulfield to the bathroom, but Caulfield jumps him from behind. As Nigro arrives and fires at Caulfield with a silencer, the deputy D.A. leaps through a window and hides. The assassins reboard the train as it pulls out of the station and almost discover Hunnicut, but she hurries back to her compartment. Caulfield leaps aboard at the last moment, with the help of a passenger, and takes a seat in the dining car. Nelson sits across from him, as Wootton hovers nearby, and tries to bribe Caulfield to “point out” the woman and “look the other way.” Caulfield claims to have no idea what he is talking about. Keller, the fat man, walks past, eyeing them. Wootton reveals to Caulfield that the train’s communication gear has been crippled, and Nelson assures him that killers will be waiting at the next stop in Vancouver. Nelson knows Caulfield’s history, especially his rebelliousness within the D.A.’s office that has kept him at the deputy level. Asked why he never quit, Caulfield claims he enjoys watching criminals like Leo Watts squirm in court just before they are found guilty. When Caulfield finally returns to the compartment, Carol Hunnicut is nearly hysterical, thinking he had been killed. He explains that they were double-crossed by James Dahlbeck. Tired of Caulfied judging her as an accessory to the crime, Carol Hunnicut reveals that she was on a blind date and did not know Tarlow was a lawyer for a crime syndicate until she saw the news report of his killing. She has a ten-year-old son, who is currently hiding with her ex-husband, and she is afraid for his safety, not her own. She demands to know how Caulfield plans to save her. He guesses they can sleep, because the killers can afford to wait until morning, but after daybreak they will have to escape the train. He conjectures that the “big fat guy” is also part of the assassination team. In the morning, Caulfield informs Hunnicut he is going to the dining car. On the way, the little boy, Nicholas, points a toy gun at him. Caulfield enlists the boy’s help by displaying his D.A.’s badge, “deputizing” him for a “special assignment,” and borrowing his toy gun. In the dining car, Kathryn Weller joins Caulfield and makes small talk. She notices he has ordered a second cup of coffee, but he claims to be taking it back to his compartment for himself. The elderly couple, who gave Caulfield and Carol Hunnicut their compartment, stop and ask how his “wife” is doing, adding for Kathryn’s benefit that Carol’s pregnancy is why they gave up their compartment. Kathryn excuses herself, but as Caulfield sees Nelson and Wootton enter the car, he pulls her away toward the opposite door, explaining that she is in danger because two killers think she is someone else. Keller approaches Caulfield and his companion, displays his “railroad cop” badge, and tells them to follow him. Keller admits he has been watching the two men, and Caulfield, also. They go to Keller’s compartment, where he has a working radio. Caulfield asks Keller to telephone Martin Larner in the Los Angeles D.A.’s office and warn him that Dahlbeck is working for Watts. Caulfield hurries back to his compartment to get Carol Hunnicut, but when they return, Keller has been shot dead. Caulfield tells Hunnicut the assassins must have taken the other woman. When Wootton appears in the corridor, Caulfield and Hunnicut run through the cars until they see Nelson. Trapped between the men, Caulfield orders her to climb onto the roof. As Wootton sees the open door between the cars, Caulfield puts the toy gun to his neck and takes his pistol. In the ensuing struggle, Caulfield knocks Wootton off the train, then climbs up to join Hunnicut on top of the train. Seeing the open door, Nelson climbs up, and shoots at the escapees, but the darkness of a tunnel save them. Caulfield jumps Nelson, and they fight until the killer topples over the side. Suddenly, Kathryn Weller appears on the roof, aiming a pistol at Carol Hunnicut, but she does not see that a tunnel is approaching behind her. It knocks her off the train. Caulfield convinces the engineer to stop, so he can telephone Martin Larner from a farmhouse. Later, Carol Hunnicut testifies against Leo Watts in court. Robert Caulfield smiles as the worried defendant adjusts his collar. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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