Where the Sidewalk Ends(Fox Home Entertainment, 12.6.2005)
Where the Sidewalk Ends was the fourth of six film noirs Otto Preminger directed between 1944 and 1952 and the third to be released on DVD after Laura, his masterpiece, and Whirlpool, a much lesser film. While this 1950 release is not quite a masterpiece -- and not as much fun as Fallen Angel (on DVD March 6) and Angel Face -- it is perhaps Otto's purest work in the genre.
Where the Sidewalk Ends begins with New York cop Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) being busted from lieutenant to sergeant because of twelve complaints about rough behavior the previous month, so we know this hothead will be in hot water before long. When a visiting businessman, Ted Morrison (Harry von Zell), is knifed to death at a floating crap game run by the sleazy Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), Dixon goes to see Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), who had been fighting with Morrison just before he was killed. The drunken Paine hits Dixon, Dixon hits back, and Paine goes down for good. The shaken cop then has to pretend to investigate a second killing while covering it up.
Complicating matters -- and matters are always complicated in film noir -- is the growing attraction between Dixon and Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney), Paine's estranged wife, and the arrest of Morgan's father (Tom Tully) for knocking off his no-good son-in-law. And in what wacky universe does a cab driver named Jiggs call his daughter Morgan? Should Dixon do the right thing and confess, or should he pin the Paine rap on Scalise who did, after all, kill Morrison? Andrews does just the opposite in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt as a reporter who frames himself for murder.
Preminger re-teams Andrews and Tierney, the Laura stars, but there are fewer sparks between them because Tierney's role is underwritten by Ben Hecht, making her limited skills even more obvious than usual. She does look good, however, in the costumes by her husband, Oleg Cassini, who has a cameo role.
With the cynical, neurotic Dixon, Andrews is even better than he was in Laura. The purpose of Dixon's life is to prove he's better than his criminal father, only for him to commit a crime himself. Such is noir fate. A notorious drinker at the time, Andrews captures Dixon's weary desperation perfectly. In Fox Home Entertainment's crisp transfer, Andrews' square-jawed face is a fascinating web of lumps and cervices. Dixon's superior (Robert F. Simon) says the cop is "bunged up like a barrelhouse vag," an especially colorful example of Hecht's delight in slang.
Where the Sidewalk Ends is an excellent example of Preminger's visual style, with much camera movement and as little cutting as possible. Commentator Eddie Muller claims that Preminger's use of the camera, moving in on the actors instead of cutting to a close-up, is as "elegant as Max Ophuls." Otto, at least during this period, is good, but not that good.
Noir expert Muller also points out how cleverly Preminger uses rear-projection shots of New York street scenes and locations like Penn Station, with moving scenery appearing from the side views of cars more often than the clichÃ©d rear window shot. Muller also calls attention to how the director arranges the characters within a frame to accentuate their psychological relationships. Preminger's best visuals come during a showdown in a parking garage with cars moving from floor to floor by elevator. Otto has them flying into this tiny space at full speed. Great stuff. -- Michael Adams