Monday, May 08, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

I was able to keep up pretty well with blogging about the first week of this year's Noir City Film Festival, but between daily trips to L.A. to see the movies and then the TCM Classic Film Festival starting just days later, I ran out of time to blog the final weekend's films!

With the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs ahead this weekend, I wanted to spend some time wrapping up my coverage of the noir festival that was.

My Noir City coverage left off with the Thursday night double bill of CHICAGO DEADLINE (1949) and I WAS A SHOPLIFTER (1950), a very enjoyable evening with two new-to-me films.

The Friday night double bill consisted of WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950) paired with THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950).

I reviewed THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK here in 2010. It's 76 minutes of tense melodrama, as Evelyn Keyes may end up spreading the plague all over New York City! It would also make a great double bill with PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), released the same year.

It was particularly moving for me to watch the film since it provided an early role for Lola Albright, who recently passed away. She plays Keyes' duplicitous sister; the actresses are seen in the lobby card to the right.

Like the other film on the double bill, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS was set in New York and features some location shooting.

Although I love Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney, I'd never before seen WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS, which reunited them with director Otto Preminger and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle from their classic LAURA (1944).

In the intervening years Andrews and Tierney, who had first costarred in BELLE STARR (1941), had also reunited to make THE IRON CURTAIN (1948) for director William Wellman.

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS was terrific from the opening credits, set to someone whistling Alfred Newman's "Street Scene" theme. "Street Scene" opened numerous film noir classics released by 20th Century-Fox, including I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), THE DARK CORNER (1946), and CRY OF THE CITY (1948), and it thus adds considerably to the "noir vibe." Having it whistled, coupled with a distinctive credits sequence (see title at right), was a fascinating way to start the movie.

In a well-paced 86-minute story, Andrews plays another police detective named Mark, but Mark Dixon is quite a bit different from Mark McPherson of LAURA. Whereas McPherson maintained tight, patient self-control, keeping his hands busy with a small game he pulls out of his pocket at key moments, Dixon is an angry cop. Think of Robert Ryan in the later and perhaps better-known ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951), and that gives the general idea.

Part of Mark's issue is that his father was a crook, something he's always had to live down. In his introduction Eddie Muller explained that, at producer Darryl Zanuck's behest, some of Ben Hecht's script was rewritten considerably during production, given Mark the background of being the son of a gangster. Originally his character was the son of a cop!

Mark has just been demoted for his over-the-top behavior, so when he accidentally kills murder suspect Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) in self-defense -- Paine was vulnerable to being hit due to a wartime head injury -- Mark panics. He dumps the body in the river and tries to finger mobster Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), but instead inadvertently frames cabbie Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully).

Taylor is the father of Ken's estranged wife Morgan (Tierney), whom Mark is falling in love with. His agony knows no end as he tries to extricate himself from the utter mess he's created, ultimately facing the most important decision of his life.

This was such an interesting film, with Andrews and Tierney playing older characters who have each been through hard times but see in each other the hope of a new future. In other situations one might wonder about Mark and Morgan falling for each other so soon after her husband's murder, even if they were estranged. As in so many movies, though, there's audience goodwill for the relationship at the outset because of the actors; we don't really question the quick development of their relationship because hey, it's Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney! We thus believe they belong together.

Both are quite touching in their roles as the hard-bitten cop and the kind woman who might be his last chance for a happy life; one wonders if to an extent their performances were informed by offscreen troubles in each of their lives. Andrews, in particular, has a remarkably moving sequence in which he acts simply with a voiceover narration and the expressions on his face.

Gary Merrill impressed me considerably in his performance as Scalise. The rough-hewn Scalise is a marked contrast from the smooth, confident director Merrill played the same year in ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). Apparently Scalise was originally supposed to be drug addict; while that was taken out, his constant use of a nasal inhaler provides an odd character tic.

Karl Malden plays a somewhat green, idealistic new police captain, Mark's new boss. The cast also includes Bert Freed, Ruth Donnelly, and Neville Brand. Watch for Tierney's husband, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, in a cameo. Off camera, Cassini designed Tierney's wardrobe for the film.

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ends is available on DVD as No. 12 in the Fox Film Noir Collection. Extras include a commentary track by Eddie Muller. The commentary is in my "watch soon" stack so I can learn more about this excellent film.


Blogger Vienna said...

Always liked this film though Gene Tierney's role was so much lesser than LAURA. I too liked Gary Merrill as the gangster. I recall that Lee Marvin also used a nasal inhaler in VIOLENT SATURDAY.
Plot wise, I thought Gene's character was far too forgiving regarding the framing of her father.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Stephen Reginald said...

I really like "Where the Sidewalk Ends." It has a great cast and I love Ruth Donnelly as the waitress that has a soft spot for Dana Andrews's character. Not a big hit (in fact it was a financial dud) when released, I'm glad it's getting its due today.

11:24 AM  

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