Where the sidewalk ends is a great piece of cinema

Film Noir Friday: Where the sidewalk ends To those who pay attention, the history of cinema teaches that groups of like-minded artists like to work together. The better the outcome of their original project, the

Film Noir Friday: Where the sidewalk ends

To those who pay attention, the history of cinema teaches that groups of like-minded artists like to work together. The better the outcome of their original project, the greater the likelihood that the same team will come together again to produce one, two or more films, hopefully of equal or better quality. Some time ago in this column, 1944 by Otto Preminger Laura was examined, a brilliant image of a detective falling in love with a woman presumed to have died from her stunning portrayal, starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney as the lovers in question. Six years after this sumptuous collaboration, the same director-actor partnership has brought the public Where the sidewalk ends, an equally bittersweet story of misguided love.

The setting of the 1950 Preminger film makes him appear as a spiritual precursor to Nicholas Ray’s film. In dangerous terrain, which will be released two years later. Detective Sgt. Mark Dixon (Andrews) goes after all the criminals who roam the streets and prey on the soft. His voracious attitude when hunting down outlaws has earned him stern warnings from his superiors more than once. Either way, Mark is on a mission to crush crime like someone with something to prove. His latest case, involving the death of a wealthy player following an altercation with executor Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), spirals out of control when the accused, uncooperative in the face of Mark’s severity, pounces on the cop. Mark defends himself as best he can, accidentally killing the man. Now Paine’s relatives, ex-wife Morgan (Tierney) and stepfather Jiggs (Tom Tully) find themselves embroiled in a two-tier murder case thanks to Mark’s ill-fated act. To top it off, Mark is starting to have deep feelings for Morgan…

There is no shortage of films, from the classic dark period or otherwise, in which the protagonist is a cop enraged against the criminal tendencies of the world. They cannot tolerate any illegal activity, viewing criminals as parasitic social manifestations that must be dealt with swiftly and with unrepentant force. As noted, Nicholas Ray wouldn’t make a movie with a nearly identical central figure until two years later. Different directors and different actors can, provided they are up to the task, extrapolate entirely different ideas, stories, and themes from that same premise. Andrews and Tierney, as well as director Preminger, had previously collaborated on Laura, ensuring that a level of comfort existed when embarking on this project. This level of comfort is easily detected by watching this movie, with Andrews and Tierney doing an exceptional job as characters that are completely different from the ones they’ve starred in. Laura, once again brought together with unmistakable chemistry under morally compromising circumstances.

Image: 20th century fox

Andrews isn’t a Robert Ryan (no one ever was or will be, for that matter) but he does have a different kind of bite. There is undeniably a temper to his Dixon, simmering just below the surface. It’s all the more impressive that Andrews is also great at playing more balanced, a little more friendly and humanistic roles, like in Elia Kazan. Boomerang!. In Sidewalk, it projects a sharpness that might not annoy any con artist, but the potential for an explosion is always present, which makes it all the more dangerous in that sense, as antagonists don’t know exactly when it is. will unleash. Tierney, on the other hand, is gorgeous even though, as you might expect, she’s playing a role that doesn’t ask much of her. Morgan picks up the pieces of a failed marriage, oblivious to her late husband’s fate (Dixon covers up his fatalistic mistake for as long as possible in hopes of blaming another high-class slippery crooner, Tommy Scalise, played by Gary Merrill). She obviously finds Dixon an interesting man, perhaps attractive, but claims that she may want to show solidarity with her ex-husband if the charges against him stand. Their superbly acted back-and-forth exchanges hint at a love that could be without some expressed reservations on Morgan’s part and hidden feelings of guilt on Dixon’s part.

Preminger and screenwriter Ben Hecht capitalize on the premise of a vicious cop having to cover up a mess for which, due to his unstable past, he could easily be blamed. The initial shock of killing Ken Paine quickly fades in favor of an elaborate and increasingly stressful ploy to avoid being detected by his partner and boss (respectively Bert Freed and Karl Malden, both in the midst of form). What is striking is the way the filmmakers choose to make Dixon behave throughout his escapade. Beyond the fact that he endlessly claims that the infamous Scalise is to blame for Paine’s death once the latter’s body is retrieved from the river, there is the uncomfortable fact that Dixon is playing his role without worrying too much about his meanness, at least not at first. It is obvious that as long as he can somehow, sort of Shake up a cocktail of evidence leading his peers to Scalise, you’ll be fine, especially if it comes to wooing the lovely Morgan. It is only in the later stages, once Morgan’s father is seen as the culprit, that a new reality sets in for Dixon, who faces a different kind of challenge to his code of ethics. Even though the eventual revelation of Dixon’s father as the criminal who perished while attempting to flee authorities is somewhat awkwardly handled, it puts the protagonist’s growing sense of guilt into perspective. How much of his father’s ethics live in him if he can try to outsmart the police for his own selfish good?

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Image: 20th century fox

Preminger, a bit like in Laura, creates a delicious style of visual presentation that refuses to draw attention to itself, although seasoned viewers will recognize some of the brilliance displayed. The inclination of the director is to rotate or pan the camera as much as possible in a given scene to communicate any information deemed necessary. This is exercised in favor of clipping from one camera to another whenever possible. It doesn’t mean that Sidewalk has fewer clippings than most other films, but paying attention to cinematography and editing reveals that Preminger revere dolly far more than cutting a scene in the editing room. It’s a quietly effective technique since these tracking shots are never elaborate or shamelessly fancy. They just help viewers become familiar with a certain scene, using the camera lens for the movie world. In a way, there is less artificiality in the final product, although a director who deliberately chooses to place a camera in a specific location on a set is in itself an aspect of the artificiality of the film. Restricting cuts nevertheless means that a viewer can focus longer on what they are looking at, with the frame behaving much like a real person would by tilting their head or moving their eyes whenever the object of attention. moves in his field of vision.

Most would be inclined to compare Where the sidewalk ends To Laura, a natural predilection for moviegoers. It features the same director, same genre, same stars, similar awkwardness from the romantic angle, and more. Everyone is different enough to be independent, which is most important. Where the sidewalk ends is an excellent piece of film exploring the mindset of a once steadfast detective forced to reckon with suddenly conflicting emotions that will inevitably shape his career, his love life and his inner self for years to come. It serves as further proof of Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney’s abilities as stars and Otto Preminger as one of the great storytellers of the time.

-Edgar Chaput

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