Movie Critique - Where the Sidewalk Ends

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Obsession with past; accidental murder; haunted conscience; toeing the edge of the line tempted to crossover to the dark underbelly; gritty story; and giving hope, redemption and romance for the viewers to feast on.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is a 1950 American film noir directed and produced by Otto Preminger. In the lead cast we see Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill and Bret Freed among others. The film showcases a very ruthless police detective who hates all criminals, giving the viewers the violence lurking underneath, even if they are law upholders.

Mark Dixon (portrayed by Dana Andrews) is a police detective who is called onto the scene of a murder. Dixon is pushed into a situation where he ends up accidentally killing a suspect in the course of his investigation. With a recent demotion for excessive use of force, he worries about his job, covers the crime and blames on another suspect. As he is proceeding with the investigation, he also slowly starts to fall in love with Morgan Taylor (portrayed by Gene Tierney), another forbidden step. And the story follows the consequences Dixon faces of his actions and where the road leads. 

The film was adapted from the 1948 novel Night Cry by William L. Stuart; with screenplay written by Ben Hecht with adaptation by Victor Trivas, Frank P. Rosenberg and Robert E. Kent. The opening credits didn’t have the traditional 20th Century Fox fanfare music. They also start with chalk writing on sidewalk with someone walking over it, then a street scene and police dispatcher on the car radio talking about two crimes. You can see Andrews' character Dixon in the car along with his partner. 

Don’t miss the opening whistling tune in the background. It is Alfred Newman's Street Scene theme from the 1931 film. As mentioned in the review of that film, that theme has been used in several films. 

The unique feature of this noir is that it shows the darker side of police force along-side the criminals; one of the few earlier films that showed bad cops in movies. I remember seeing a somewhat similar bad cop theme in 1946 B-movie film noir Night Editor too. The film does keep all the other elements of a film noir including the fact that one cannot run from their past.

This film also forms a reunion of the team that made the 1944 film Laura - Lead star cast Andrews and Tierney; director Preminger; released by 20th Century Fox; cinematographer Joseph Lashelle; and set in New York city. Filmmakers even made Tierney's Morgan Taylor look very similar to her Lauran Hunt from that 1944 film. 

Laura was my first film noir to watch that got me interested in them when I first watched it in 2017. There is even a scene where Jiggs Taylor (portrayed by Tom Tully) talks about how he had helped a detective named Mark Dixon six years ago in apprehending some criminals. Perhaps alluding to Laura again. It was no surprise that critics compared this film to Laura at every turn of the frame. 

Andrews' Mark Dixon had many similarities to his role of Mark McPherson in Laura. He was still the same cynical and tight-lipped cop, but Dixon showed age, weight of the world he gathered as a cop and with an obsession to run from the past; making him slightly different from McPherson.

I found the electric attraction missing between Dixon and Morgan which was so elemental in Laura between Andrews and Tierney. It was there but didn’t sizzle as much. Perhaps because the plot focused more on the crime and underbelly of it rather than romanticizing any part of it. 

Obsession with past; accidental murder; haunted conscience; toeing the edge of the line tempted to crossover to the dark underbelly; gritty story; and giving hope, redemption and romance for the viewers to feast on. Another exceptional film noir focusing not just on the crime and romance but also on ethics and conscience. Well made!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. This is the fourth film in a series of four that director Preminger made for 20th Century Fox in the 1940s. The other three films were - 1944 Laura, 1950 Whirlpool and 1945 Fallen Angel - all of them being film noir.

b. Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney made a total of five films together. Other than Laura and this film (which was the last of the five), the remaining three were - 1941 Tobacco Road, 1941 Belle Starr and 1948 The Iron Curtain.

c. The story from which the film was adapted was dramatized on radio in 1949 for the "Suspense" series with the same name as the book, with Ray Milland portraying Mark Dixon. 

d. In 1951 Lux Radio Theater broadcasted a radio adaptation of the film with Dana Andrews reprising his role.

e. Gene Tierney was married to fashion and costume designer Oleg Cassini at the time of the filming of this film. His only film appearance is seen in this as himself in-person and in profession. (The guy standing in the picture)

f. This is the film debut for Robert F. Simon, who played the part of Inspector Nicholas Foley in the film.

g. Karl Malden is seen as Detective Lieutenant Thomas in this film. I remember for his role as Mitch in the 1951 drama film A Streetcar Named Desire.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Willie Bender (portrayed by Don Appell) goes to the 45th Street Hotel per the sign near the door. However after the crime is committed and when Dixon is assigned, he is sent to "43rd Street Hotel".

b. After Paine is knocked to ground and dies, Dixon tries to wake him by slapping his face. Paine's face rolls back to other side once Dixon stops slapping. A later shot from a different angle of the same scene show his eyelids moving inside the closed eyes. How does a corpse move? 

c. When Dixon is writing his letter to Inspector Foley in Morgan Taylor's room, she is shown three or four times sleeping on the couch with a throw tucked upto her neck. However, as soon as Dixon is done writing the letter he goes to her and retucks the throw under her neck. When did she remove the throw?

d. When Scalise and his gang are escaping, Dixon stops the elevator when the pointer reaches between floors four and five. However when the scene inside the elevator is shown, the inner door shows floor 7.


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