SIDE STREET (director: Anthony Mann; screenwriter: Sydney Boehm; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; cast: Farley Granger (Joe Norson), Cathy O’Donnell (Ellen Norson), James Craig (Georgie Garsell), Paul Kelly (Capt. Walter Anderson), Jean Hagen (Harriet Sinton), Paul Harvey (Emil Lorrison), Edwin Max (Nick Drummon), Edmon Ryan (Victor Backett), Charles McGraw (Stanley Simon), Adele Jergens (Lucille “Lucky” Colner), Harry Bellaver (Larry), Whit Bissell (Harold Simpsen); Runtime: 83; MGM; 1950)
“A taut film noir.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A minor film noir directed with verve by Anthony Mann, about a part-time private letter carrier who steals money from a lawyer’s office and gets involved in a murder rap. The crime caper story was absurd, but the finale featuring an exciting car chase through the deserted streets of Lower Manhattan gave the film some oomph.

Joe Norson (Farley Granger) is someone who feels he let his pregnant wife down by not earning enough money to give her the finer things in life, and he thinks his wife should have a private room when she goes to the hospital for their expected baby. When he delivers the office mail to Victor Backett (Ryan) and sees $200 placed in a filing cabinet, he returns to break-in. But there’s $30,000 in that cabinet, a sum that startles him as he panics at the thought of so much money now in his possession. He doesn’t realize that the money is from a blackmail scheme run by Backett’s girlfriend, “Lucky” Colner (Jergens), on an elderly married man (Harvey). Backett, not wanting to take chances of anyone squealing, has his ex-con former client whom he got out on parole, the ‘Big Fellow,’ Georgie Garsell (Craig), strangle Lucky and dump her body in the East River.

This murder brings about a full-scale murder investigation, led by Captain Anderson (Kelly) and Detective Stanley Simon (Charles McGraw). Meanwhile Joe goes into a panic about what he did and has no clear plan, as he takes some money for immediate use and wraps the rest in a package and asks the bartender on his route Nick Drummon (Max) to hold it for him. He tells his wife that he got a job upstate and will be gone a few days. But, while staying in a cheap hotel in town, after thinking over what he did, he foolishly walks into Backett’s office and tells him he took the money from him. But Backett pretends he doesn’t know what he’s saying, as he stalls to check out the story. The gangsters then force him to give him the money, but the bartender ran away with the real package and left him a phony one. After being worked over and thrown out of their car, Joe tracks down the bartender. But he’s too late, as the gangsters got their first and took the money and killed the bartender.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

This leads Joe through the dark spots in NYC where he finds George’s nightclub singer girlfriend, Harriet (Hagen), who steers him to the gangsters. The gang kills Harriet rather than take a chance on the cops nabbing her and then they decide to kill Joe, as at gunpoint they force him to walk down to the taxi. On there way to the East River, at the Washington Square Market, the police pick up their trail and a high-speed chase ensues, with the criminals killed and Joe severely hurt in the car crash as he is carried out in a stretcher. Joe’s reunited with his forgiving wife and is forgiven by the cops, as this bleak film ends on a happy note.

It was a taut film noir, catching the despair of the protagonist who because of his human failings had a momentary lapse in good judgment and went through a hellish experience to atone for his misdeed. The strength in the film lies in the oppressive atmosphere created. The tall buildings and narrow city streets play against Joe reacting as a wounded animal trying to survive in the city jungle, scared and feeling too weak to help himself as his American Dream is crumbling. Both Granger and O’Donnell are borrowed from MGM and Samuel Goldwyn respectively. MGM hoped they could duplicate the success they both had while starring in Ray’s RKO thriller They Live By Night. But they just couldn’t get any romance going in this film to make the story seem more palpable. It works mainly for its action sequences.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”