(1952)4Karl WilliamsOriginally titled The Target, RKO's noir programmer The Narrow Margin (1952) was a hard-boiled masterpiece of gangland-flavored tough-guy dialogue and of economy in setting and pace. The plot contrivances, shootings, taut pace, and a major narrative twist in the third act helped it become an instant audience favorite and earn enough critical clout for an Oscar nomination as Best Original Screenplay. Practically a primer on how to produce a B-movie, it began its life as the lower half of a double bill with Tembo (1952), a laughable African safari adventure from star-director-producer Howard Hill, promoted as the "World's Greatest Archer." The son of famed cartoonist Max Fleischer (the creator of Popeye and Betty Boop), director Richard Fleischer reached the high water mark of his low budget career with The Narrow Margin. Having already won a Short Subject Oscar in 1948, the former newsreel editor's career took off on the popularity and reputation of the film, and he was soon directing glossy A-list projects like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), although he never completely gave up his affinity for crime melodrama. Critical respect for The Narrow Margin grew over the years until, at around the same time as a big-budget 1990 remake, a new print of the original was screened on the revival circuit. Without a bit of irony, The Narrow Margin was once again shown as half of a double bill, this time with the lurid classic Detour (1946), to which The Narrow Margin was often favorably compared (both films featured scripts co-written by Martin Goldsmith). With apologies to Howard Hill, most aficionados of lower-tier Hollywood noir consider The Narrow Margin one of the greatest B-movies ever made.