BR: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

April 26, 2016 | By

WhereTheSidewalkEnds_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  February 16, 2016

Genre:  Film Noir / Crime

Synopsis: A drastic attempt to clean up an accidental death sends a hothead detective to his doom in this taut classic from Otto Preminger.

Special Features: 2005 Audio Commentator with film noir historian Eddie Muller / Isolated Mono Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

It’s easy to peg Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends as a paler work compared to Laura (1944), especially since the former resembles a packaged reunion of key personnel, with Preminger producing & directing, stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney cast as improbable would-be lovers again, Joseph LaShelle again lending his beautiful cinematography, and the setting is once again New York City, but Sidewalk is  a small little masterwork that shows almost everyone in great form, especially Preminger, whose career would soon swerve into hot-topic dramas, often challenging the stifling Production Code (the topic of / literal use of the word “pregnant” in The Moon is Blue; drug use in The Man with the Golden Arm, rape in Anatomy of a Murder).

Preminger’s early career as a Fox producer-director is filled with some dynamic noirs, and Sidewalk lives up to its cult status as a marginalized genre classic. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray edition sports a gorgeous HD transfer and the same extras as the 2005 DVD from Fox’s film noir series, plus the addition of a dynamic isolated mono music track showcasing Cyril Mockridge’s score.

As audio commentator and film noir historian Eddie Muller recounts, Sidewalk was based on a novel by William Stuart and adapted by several writers, but it’s credited Ben Hecht (Barbary Coast, His Girl Friday, Notorious) that certainly gets the attention for the sharp, bare bones dialogue that nevertheless sets up and deepens characters and their emerging conflicts. The core story of a cop covering up an accidental killing and ultimately ruining his life isn’t new, but the film serves to remind how good Andrews was prior to a waning career that many attributed to years of heavy drinking.

Det. Dixon (Andrews) has a serious hate-on for local crime kingpin Scalise (All About Eve and Mysterious Island’s Gary Merrill, really solid playing a slimy heavy), and when Dixon lethally knocks out a witness to a murder sanctioned by Scalise after an illegal gambling match, the impulsive decision is to scramble up a plan that fingers the kingpin as the real killer.

Hecht’s script constantly shifts levels of guilt and the discovery of facts among characters to build up irony and tension, and Dixon’s circumstances aren’t helped when the department’s new governing lieutenant Thomas (Karl Malden) rapidly builds a case against an innocent man, taxi driver Jiggs (scene-stealing Tom Tully). It also doesn’t help that the man Dixon killed (Peter Gunn’s Craig Stevens) is the estranged husband of Jiggs’ daughter Morgan (Tierney), with whom he starts to develop feelings.

The beauty of Sidewalk is that it’s a classic noir and a solid police procedural, with tension mounting as the wrong man is arrested, and Dixon develops a major death wish to right several wrongs stemming from his rash and very bad decision. Contemporary audiences may have wished for a more risqué finale – being made under the Production Code, it’s no surprise that all guilty persons are punished in some fashion – but it also makes the finale more intense, as the level of punitive measures (and who metes them out) remains unknown until the last scene. The finale does echo a bit of Leave Her to Heaven (1945), but then so do many moments within the film as a whole.

Originality lies in Preminger’s direction which Muller describes as being invisible when the director was in top form, sticking to long takes, and keeping the camera moving to facilitate edits that are often very discrete. Preminger’s use of close-ups is exceptionally powerful – one tense shot locked to Andrews’ tense face is amazing, and must have been riveting on the big screen – as are some unusual camera placements, including a single shot that follows a car into and up a service elevator before it pulls away.

Muller’s commentary is generally solid – a few silent gaps recur, but it’s its not a consistent problem – and while there’s admittedly a bit to much self-promotion in dropping the names of his own work as a noir author, Muller often cross-references themes, reiterates familiar tropes, cast members, motifs, and imagery with other genre entries, contextualizing the film’s stature within the history of film noir.

If there’s one major flaw, it’s the overuse (if not recurring use) of Alfred Newman’s “Street Scene” theme which tends to take away from the film’s procedural grimness whenever there’s a lush, formal version of the main theme. Mockridge’s own variations are most startling when they’re reinterpreted as weird, discordant suspense tracks, but unlike Laura, this isn’t a noir with a dreamy romance; there’s mounting guilt, and Dixon’s frequently called away from Morgan because Lt. Thomas’ investigation is moving at fierce speed.

Sidewalk is also a chilling example of an era predating the establishment and use of the Miranda rights starting in 1966, in which the police inform a suspect that he / she has the right to remain silent and engage a lawyer. Thomas makes a fast assessment of the crime scene and makes Jiggs the only suspect, and he refuses to entertain a different narrative. The result of Thomas’ gleeful power trip has Jiggs grabbed by the police, taken to the crime scene, forced to replay Dixon’s own actions as witnessed by a landlady, and quickly booked for murder. To contemporary audiences, the speed and virtual helplessness of Jiggs’ arrest and charging is pretty terrifying.

Genre fans will also have fun spotting the superior supporting cast, especially genre character actors Bert Freed as Dixon’s long-suffering partner and friend, unbilled Neville Brand (Stalag 17, Riot in Cell Block 11, Eaten Alive) as Scalise’s main henchman and, er masseuse, and prolific Robert F. Simon in his unbilled film debut. Tierney’s then-husband / fashion designer Oleg Cassini has a cameo playing (what else?) a fashion designer.

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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