WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS
(director: Otto Preminger; screenwriters: Ben Hecht/Robert Kent/Victor Trivas/Frank P. Rosenberg/story Night Cry by William L. Stuart; cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Cyril Mockridge; cast: Dana Andrews (Mark Dixon), Gene Tierney (Morgan Taylor), Gary Merrill (Tommy Scalise), Karl Malden (Lt. Bill Thomas), Bert Freed (Paul Klein), Tom Tully (Jiggs Taylor), Grace Mills (Mrs. Tribaum, Paine’s Landlady), Craig Stevens (Ken Paine), Robert Simon (Inspector Nicholas Foley), Ruth Donnelly (Martha), Harry Von Zell (Ted Morrison), Don Appell (Willie Bender), Neville Brand (Steve, Scalise Hood), David Wolfe (Sid Kramer); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Otto Preminger; 20th Century Fox; 1950)
“A fascinating brutish and dark film noir that is set in the corrupt milieu of the underworld.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Otto Preminger (“Laura”/”Fallen Angel”) directs this stinging film noir about a tough cop who is faced with a curious moral dilemma. It’s crisply written by Ben Hecht and adapted from William Stuart’s novel Night Cry.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is reduced in rank to a second grade detective by Inspector Foley (Robert Simon) after a number of citizen complaints about his rough treatment. He especially hates hoods, and makes it a point to work them over. The new head of detectives for the 16th Precinct is introduced as Lt. Bill Thomas (Karl Malden). That night a wealthy Texan, Ted Morrison (Harry Von Zell), is found stabbed to death at a midtown Manhattan hotel, where he was in a crap game run by mobster Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill). Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) hustled Morrison to attend the crap game and used his separated model wife Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney) as a lure. Morrison won $19,000 and leaves the game, and Ken slaps Morgan around for not getting him to stay longer. Morrison and Paine then end up in a brawl over the way he treated Morgan. Dixon is ordered to arrest Paine as a murder suspect, but the drunken former war hero who has fallen on hard times acts belligerent and tries to kill Dixon when asked peacefully to go down to the precinct. When Dixon slugs him in self-defense, Paine falls and bangs his silver-plated head on the floor–an injury from the war. Dixon in a panic acts like a mobster (still haunted that his father was a career criminal) and covers up the accidental slaying by dumping the body in the East River–trying to make it look as if Scalise’s boys did it. But Thomas, when the body is discovered, proves it wasn’t a gangland slaying and arrests taxi driver Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully), Morgan’s innocent father, who went to Ken’s apartment to punch him out for hitting his daughter. In the meantime, Dixon and Morgan get to know one another and fall in love. In order to get Jiggs out of jail, Dixon unwisely confronts Scalise alone in a Turkish bathe and the mobster’s goons work him over. The police arrest Scalise’s goon Steve (Neville Brand) for the cop beating and grill him about what happened at the crap game. Steve cracks and spills the beans, but only after Dixon arranged through his informer a meeting to be alone with Scalise. Dixon was planning to have Scalise kill him before he fled the country and thereby pay the price for that murder, and wrote a letter to be opened after his death to Inspector Foley confessing his accidental killing of Paine and coverup. But the police arrive to arrest the gang in their warehouse hideout, which they learned about from Steve. Dixon has Foley read the letter anyway, and is arrested but Morgan sticks by him.
The film has questionable moral aims, revealing the dark nature of the noirish hero who is still plagued by living in the shadow of his criminal father–the one who brought Scalise to power. Dixon is pictured as a loner, unstable, and violent, who now can change because he found a good woman to look after him. The troubled man redeems himself by his own twisted sense of justice.
“Sidewalk” is a fascinating brutish and dark film noir that is set in the corrupt milieu of the underworld, where the hero is so alienated that he hardly seems human. He’s constantly boiling over with anger, and even though he lost his mental stability, professional integrity, and moral compass he’s still considered a good cop who only has to calm down a bit. Preminger only flirts with telling a social-conscience drama about a debased society, instead he keeps the thriller riding on Dixon’s shoulders as a personal thing about a man with an Oedipal complex who is becoming unraveled but still has the power of the law on his side and a sense of unexpected decency.
Dana Andrews gives an outstanding performance, as his complicated character is revealed through his spells of violence and the anguish that still haunts him and in his noble gesture to reveal at last the truth rather than live a life of lies. Andrews is trapped by circumstances but is transformed through his external actions that can be read in the archetypical noir hero’s emotional facial expressions before he acts them out.
REVIEWED ON 3/21/2005 GRADE: B+