Where the Sidewalk Ends, 1950, 20th Century Fox. Starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney. Directed by Otto Preminger. B&W, 95 minutes.
A good cop with a bad temper, Detective Mark Dixon’s (Dana Andrews) habit of roughing up the questionable characters he encounters on the streets of New York City is wearing thin with his superiors. He’s just been demoted, and he’s not very happy when he encounters Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), a gangster and gambler, in the middle of a fight between two other men.
In the course of the investigation, Dixon finds one of the two men, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) nursing his wounds in his nearby apartment. In the resulting confrontation, Dixon accidentally kills Paine, who, it turns out, had a plate in his head that made him particularly vulnerable to the kind of blow that would only knock another man out for the moment.
In a panic, Dixon tries to pin the murder on Scalise, but his evidence points to another man instead, a cab driver named Jiggs Taylor (Tom Tully). Taylor is the father of Paine’s wife, Morgan (Gene Tierney), and Dixon finds himself falling for her, making his deception that much more difficult to deal with.
This was the fifth and final pairing of Andrews and Tierney in a film, the most successful being Laura, and this movie suffers a bit in comparison to that iconic story. It is, however, a strong story in its own right, with deft direction by Preminger and the moodiness and stark details that make up the best of film noir.
The role of Morgan was, perhaps, more suited to Gene Tierney’s talents than the lead in Laura. She is both strong and vulnerable here, without trying to be anything more than the woman Morgan is, one who wants a better man and a better life.
Andrews was an accomplished actor, yet even among his other notable roles this part stands out. Mark Dixon is complex and conflicted, sharp on the one hand, yet blind to at least some of his own shortcomings. Director Preminger later called him one of his favorite actors to work with.
The film was shot entirely in New York City, with some location work in Times Square and other key areas around the city. Preminger’s attitude toward police officers, which he had expressed in an earlier interview, is clearly laid out in Where the Sidewalk Ends. “A cop is basically a criminal,” he told the reporter. “When they become cops, they satisfy an instinct for violence, only it’s legalized violence.” No doubt many would beg to differ, but that attitude colored the director’s work.
Where the Sidewalk Ends is how one imagines film noir should be, with edgy characters in a dark setting. The dialogue is sharp and to the point; the characters are neither all good nor all bad, and the photography and music contribute to the overall melodramatic feel of the story. Its opening sequence sets the mood, which is held to the very end, an ending with a glimmer of hope overshadowed by a stark reality.