Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Directed by Otto Preminger
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle

Where the Sidewalk Ends is a 1950 American film noir directed and produced by Otto Preminger. The screenplay for the film was written by Ben Hecht, and adapted by Robert E. Kent, Frank P. Rosenberg, and Victor Trivas. The screenplay and adaptations were based on the novel Night Cry by William L. Stuart. The film stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.

New York City 16th Precinct Police Detective Dixon (Dana Andrews), who has been demoted by his superiors for his heavy-handed tactics, subjects murder suspect and gambler Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) to the third degree – he strikes the drunken Paine in self-defense and accidentally kills him. Paine, however, had a silver plate in his head, a fine war record, and newspaper friends. Dixon then dumps Paine’s body in the river, and is later assigned to find his killer.

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Dixon tries to place the blame on an old gangster enemy, Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), but inadvertently puts cab driver Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully) under suspicion instead. Having fallen in love with Jiggs’ daughter and Paine’s estranged wife, Morgan Taylor-Paine (Gene Tierney), Dixon tries to clear the cabbie without implicating himself, but ultimately becomes tangled in a web of his own creation. The 16th Precinct commander and Dixon’s boss, newly promoted Detective Lt. Thomas (Karl Malden), are convinced that Morgan’s father is the killer.

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Dixon continues to find a way to stop Jiggs from being found guilty of murdering Paine, and also tries to redeem himself. In an attempt to move the evidence away from Morgan’s father and blame Scalise, Dixon comes face to face with the gangster and his cronies. A shoot-out leaves Dixon wounded, but the police arrive to arrest Scalise and his mob. Jiggs is finally cleared of the charges. At the end Dixon reassesses his life and decides to confess. He is satisfied that Morgan believes in him regardless of the outcome.

“I Couldn’t Shake Loose From What I Was”

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, and starring Dana Andrews, the king of the B-movies, this is a terrific 20th-Century Fox film noir, all heavy woollen topcoats, stylish wide-brimmed hats and skewed camera angles. It’s a film with a superb ‘dark’ look and a Ben Hecht script which delivers the authentic cadences of noirspeak.

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Ruth Donnelly           (Right)

Mark Dixon is a tough cop. His father was a small-time hood, and Dixon feels he has something to prove. He uses street methods, roughing-up bad guys and bullying stoolpigeons. He is not liked by his superiors, and has remained a detective sergeant, whereas his contemporary Lewis (Karl Malden) has played it by the book and has risen to the rank of lieutenant. Lewis is now Dixon’s boss, and there is considerable tension between the two men.

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Enter Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), a two-bit crook and bagman for Scalise (Guy Merrill). Tall, dark and handsome, and a much-decorated war hero, Paine is a drinker and a punk who lurks around cheap crap games. He is dating a dame by the name of Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney), a looker with a whiff of glamour about her. Morgan is a fashion model in a Manhattan department store by day, and an ‘escort’ in Scalise’s gambling club by night. Jiggs Taylor, her father (Tom Tulley), is a New York cabbie with a fondness for telling tall stories.

Dixon is on his last chance. The captain has made it clear – no more rough stuff. Then something dreadful happens, and Dixon panics and tries to cover it up. He sets in motion a train of events which he can’t control, especially after he becomes emotionally involved with the beautiful Morgan. Dixon’s tormented soul is the film’s battleground, the instinct for self-preservation warring with a guilty conscience and a need to earn the girl’s respect.

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Though they do not spoil the movie, there are some things in the story which don’t quite add up. A detective openly discusses a current investigation with a yellow cab driver, something which even the unorthodox Dixon would never do. Dishes are served to Dixon and Morgan in the restaurant, even though they didn’t order anything specific. How is Morgan able to get to Paine’s apartment in the couple of minutes which elapse after she hears the news? Why do the police interrogate Jiggs at the scene, in the presence of his daughter? Surely the detectives know better than to subject Jiggs to a confrontation ID without allowing him access to legal advice?

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A ‘noir’ is nothing if not atmospheric, and this one is dripping with atmosphere. Brooklyn Bridge looms high over the mean streets, a skeletal silhouette which haunts the action like some urban angel of doom. New York City is the matrix in and through which these characters function, the context of their entire existence, and its presence is constantly felt. Whether by means of an el-train overhead, or a forest of skyscrapers swimming into focus through the locker-room window, the city surrounds and bears in upon these people, the malevolent nest through which they are obliged to scurry.

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Dana Andrews is excellent as Dixon, the tough guy who retains our sympathy because he is capable of remorse. Watch out for Scalise’s masseur, a very young Neville Brand.

It doesn’t always help to be innocent, says Dixon, the hard man conscious of the harsh ways of the city, but the wretchedness of a guilty conscience is a terrible burden to bear. The camera conveys this beautifully, with a brooding Dixon large in the foreground as the investigation proceeds, and earlier, his horrified face twisted by a fish-eye lens as he realises the enormity of what he has done.

Verdict – A murky, grim film noir … marvellous!

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Dana Andrews: Noir’s haunted conscience

9/10
Author: imogensara_smith from New York City
13 July 2006

We’re a long way from LAURA. Once again Otto Preminger directs, Dana Andrews stars as a police detective named Mark, and Gene Tierney is the beautiful woman who haunts him, but nothing else about WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS resembles everyone’s favorite sophisticated murder mystery. Instead of deliciously quotable dialogue we get gritty, harrowing realism. While the earlier film took place in the ritzy upper echelons of New York society, here we’re in the low-rent district of dark streets, hoodlums, cheap restaurants and crummy flats. Tierney, gorgeous as ever, now works as a department-store mannequin and lives in Washington Heights (the neighborhood of the “doll” who once got a fox fur out of LAURA’s Mark McPherson). This time Andrews is Mark Dixon, an older, sadder, more troubled version of the cool cop in a trench coat.

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WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS belongs to a sub-genre of noir, movies about police brutality focusing on cops who can’t control their violent impulses. Like Kirk Douglas’s character in DETECTIVE STORY, Dixon owes his seething contempt for crooks to his father’s criminal past. Where Douglas is self-righteous and blind to his own faults, Andrews is burdened by repressed guilt and self-loathing. He accidentally kills a suspect and covers up his actions with an attempt to throw suspicion on a slimy gangster (Gary Merrill) whom he has been vainly pursuing for years. Instead, a kindly cab driver is suspected because he’s the father of the dead man’s estranged and mistreated wife Morgan (Gene Tierney). Dixon, falling in love with the wife of the man he killed, tries desperately to save her father without giving himself away.

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Among noir protagonists, Dana Andrews had this distinction: he was incapable of appearing unintelligent. Even when playing an average Joe, as he usually did, he always comes across as unusually sensitive and perceptive; more than that, his air of being too thoughtful for his own comfort gives him that haunted–and haunting–quality that was his essence as an actor. He played ordinary guys, cops and soldiers, but always with a tragic undercurrent of seeing and knowing too much. His conscientious heroes are marked by exhaustion, guilt, the inability ever to “lighten up.” No other actor could have expressed so well the bottled-up anger, the slow-burning pain, the agonized intelligence of Mark Dixon. He also has a muted tenderness, a muffled warmth and even wry humor that make him heartbreaking. This comes out when he takes Morgan to a restaurant where he’s a regular, and for the first time we see this cold, brutal man trading mock insults with the waitress, whose sarcasm can’t hide her affection and concern for him. When Dixon asks his partner for money to get a lawyer for Morgan’s father, he supplies it even though they recently argued and Dixon threw a punch at him.

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There are no words about loyalty or knowing he’s a good guy deep down, but we see it all in the man’s anguished silence and his wife’s resignation as she hands over some jewelry to pawn. Dixon’s goodness comes across through other people’s reactions to him as much as through Andrews’s deeply moving performance.

Though Dana Andrews was a minor star, he may be the quintessential forties man. He goes through some movies hardly ever taking off his overcoat; with that boxy, mid-century silhouette, further fortified by the fedora, the glass of bourbon, the cigarette he doesn’t take out of his mouth when he talks, he looks imprisoned in the masculine ideal of toughness and impassivity. While many noirs romanticize the two-fisted tough guy, WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS offers an unflinching portrait of the reality behind the façade, a gripping and melancholy exploration of the roots and consequences of violence.

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Andrews was sadly underrated in his own time (he was the only one of the three protagonists in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES not nominated for an Academy Award, though his low-key performance is far more compelling than Frederic March’s hammy, Oscar-winning drunk). Fortunately, Andrews appeared in some films that ensured his immortality, and now at last this little-known film, which contains his best performance, can be seen as part of the marvelous Fox Film Noir set. This series, including a number of never before released titles (such as NIGHTMARE ALLEY and THIEVES’ HIGHWAY), suggests that Twentieth-Century-Fox may have had the finest record of all the major studios when it came to film noir.

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One of the best detective films of the Fifties!

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
6 September 2001
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.’

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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…

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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…

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