Cop Mark Dixon is already in trouble with his superiors for his brutal tactics when he accidentally kills a murder suspect. To protect himself, he decides to cover it up and pin the killing on a racketeer he hates and knows has committed many crimes like this in the past, Scalise.
Dana Andrews ... Det. Sgt. Mark Dixon (16th Precinct)
Gene Tierney ... Morgan Taylor(Paine)
Gary Merrill ... Tommy Scalise
Bert Freed ... Det. Sgt. Paul Klein (Dixon's partner)
Tom Tully ... Jiggs Taylor, Morgan's Father
Karl Malden ... Det. Lt. Thomas (16th Precinct Detectives commander)
Ruth Donnelly ... Martha, Owner of Martha's Cafe
Craig Stevens ... Ken Paine
At first glance, it would seem natural to compare Where the Sidewalk Ends with Laura. Both have noirish qualities, both were directed by Otto Preminger, and both star Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. But that's where most of the comparisons end. Laura dealt with posh, sophisticated people with means who just happen to find themselves mixed-up in a murder. Where the Sidewalk Ends is set in a completely different strata. These are people with barely two nickels to rub together who are more accustomed to seeing the underbelly of society than going to fancy dress parties. Where the Sidewalk ends is a gritty film filled with desperate people who solve their problems with their fists or some other weapon. Small-time hoods are a dime-a-dozen and cops routinely beat confessions out of the crooks. Getting caught-up in a murder investigation seems as natural as breathing.
While I haven't seen his entire body of work, based on what I have seen, Dana Andrews gives one of his best performances as the beat-down cop, Det. Sgt. Mark Dixon. He's the kind of cop who is used to roughing up the local hoods if it gets him information or a confession. One night, he goes too far and accidentally kills a man. He does his best to cover it up. But things get complicated when he falls for the dead man's wife, Morgan Taylor (Tierney), whose father becomes suspect number one in the murder case. As Morgan's father means the world to her, Dixon's got to do what he can to clear the old man without implicating himself.
Technically, Where the Sidewalk Ends is outstanding. Besides the terrific performance from Andrews, the movie features the always delightful Tierney. She has a quality that can make even the bleakest of moments seem brighter. The rest of the cast is just as solid with Tom Tully as the wrongly accused father being a real standout. Beyond the acting, the direction, sets, lighting, and cinematography are all top-notch. Overall, it's an amazingly well made film.
If I have one complaint (and admittedly it's a very, very minor quibble) it's that Tierney is almost too perfect for the role and her surroundings. It's a little difficult to believe that a woman like that could find herself mixed-up with some of these unsavory characters. It's not really her fault, it's just the way Tierney comes across. She seems a little too beautiful, polished, and delicate for the part. But, her gentle, kind, trusting nature add a sense of needed realism to her portrayal.
Perhaps the most gripping and intelligent of crooked cop movies is Otto Preminger's 'Where the Sidewalks Ends,' from a really excellent script by Ben Hecht based on the novel 'Night Cry' by Frank Rosenberg...
Dana Andrews is the honest, tough New York policeman, always in trouble with his superiors because he likes his own strong-arm methods as much as he detests crooks... When he hit someone, his knuckles hurt... And the man he wants to hit is a smooth villain (Gary Merrill) who points up the title. 'Why are you always trying to push me in the gutter?' he asks Andrews. 'I have as much right on the sidewalk as you.'
Dana Andrew's obsession and neurosis are implanted in his hidden, painful discovery that he is the son of a thief... His deep hatred of criminals led him to use their own illegal methods to destroy them, and the pursuit of justice became spoiled in private vendetta...
By a twist of irony unique to the film itself, Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney of 'Laura' are united once more, and Andrews now seems to be playing the same detective a few years later, but no longer the romantic, beaten down by his job, by the cheap crooks... This time, he goes too far, and accidentally kills a suspect... The killing is accidental, the victim worthless, yet it is a crime that he knows can break him or send him to jail...
Using his knowledge of police procedure, he covers up his part in the crime, plants false clues, and tries to implicate a gang leader, but cannot avoid investigating the case himself... The double tension of following the larger case through to its conclusion without implicating himself in the murder, is beautifully maintained and the final solution is both logical, satisfying, and in no way a compromise...
The film is one of the best detective films of the 50's, with curious moral values, also one of Preminger's best...
Preminger uses a powerful storytelling technique, projecting pretentious camera angles and peculiar touches of the bizarre in order to externalize his suspense in realism...
Elegance and class are not always the first words that come to mind when folks (at least folks who might do such a thing) sit around and talk about film noir.
Yet some of the best films of the genre, "Out of the Past," "The Killers," "In A Lonely Place," "Night and the City," manage a level of sleek sophistication that elevates them beyond a moody catch phrase and its connotations of foreboding shadows, fedoras, and femme-fatales.
"Where the Sidewalk Ends," a fairly difficult to find film -- the only copy in perhaps the best stocked video store in Manhattan was a rough bootleg from the AMC cable channel -- belongs in a category with these classics.
From the moment the black cloud of opening credits pass, a curtain is drawing around rogue loner detective Marc Dixon's crumbling world, and as the moments pass, it inches ever closer, threatening suffocation.
Sure, he's that familiar "cop with a dark past", but Dana Andrews gives Dixon a bleak stare and troubled intensity that makes you as uncomfortable as he seems. And yeah, he's been smacking around suspects for too long, and the newly promoted chief (Karl Malden, in a typically robust and commanding outing) is warning him "for the last time."
Yet Dixon hates these thugs too much to stop now. And boy didn't they had have it coming?
"Hoods, dusters, mugs, gutter nickel-rats" he spits when that tough nut of a boss demotes him and rolls out all of the complaints the bureau has been receiving about Dixon's right hook. The advice is for him to cool off for his own good. But instead he takes matters into his own hands.
And what a world of trouble he finds when he relies on his instincts, and falls back on a nature that may or may not have been passed down from a generation before.
Right away he's in deep with the cops, the syndicate, his own partner. Dixon's questionable involvement in a murder "investigation" threatens his job, makes him wonder whether he is simply as base as those he has sworn to bring in. Like Bogart in "Lonely Place," can he "escape what he is?"
When he has nowhere else to turn, he discovers that he has virtually doomed his unexpected relationship with a seraphic beauty (the marvelous Gene Tierney) who seems as if she can turn his barren bachelor's existence into something worth coming home to.
The pacing of this superb film is taut and gripping. The group of writers that contributed to the production polished the script to a high gloss -- the dialogue is snappy without disintegrating into dated parody fodder, passionate without becoming melodramatic or sappy.
And all of this top-notch direction and acting isn't too slick or buffed to loosen the film's emotional hold. Gene Tierney's angelic, soft-focus beauty is used to great effect. She shows herself to be an actress of considerable range, and her gentle, kind nature is as boundless here as is her psychosis in "Leave Her to Heaven." The scenes between Tierney and Andrews's Dixon grow more intense and touching the closer he seems to self-destruction.
Near the end of his rope, cut, bruised, and exhausted Dixon summarizes his lot: "Innocent people can get into terrible jams, too,.." he says. "One false move and you're in over your head."
Perhaps what makes this film so totally compelling is the sense that things could go wildly wrong for almost anyone -- especially for someone who is trying so hard to do right -- with one slight shift in the wind, one wrong decision or punch, or, most frighteningly, due to factors you have no control over. Noir has always reflected the darkest fears, brought them to the surface. "Where the Sidewalk Ends" does so in a realistic fashion.
(One nit-pick of an aside: This otherwise sterling film has a glaringly poor dub of a blonde model that wouldn't seem out of place on Mystery Science Theater. How very odd.)
But Noir fans -- heck, ANY movie fans -- who haven't seen this one are in for a terrific treat.
* This is the last in a series of films that Otto Preminger made as a director-for-hire for Twentieth Century Fox in the 1940's. The series includes "Laura", which also stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, "Whirlpool", and "Fallen Angel"
* This story was originally dramatized on radio in January 1949 for the series "Suspense", under the title "Night Cry", staring Ray Milland in the Dana Andrews role.
* Not only was the traditional Twentieth Century Fox fanfare music not utilized at the film's opening, Alfred Newman's ubiquitous "Street Scene Theme" is whistled over the unique opening credits, appropriately written in chalk on a sidewalk.