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Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Directed by:

Otto Preminger

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 91 minutes

UK Certificate: 12

On DVD

Otto Preminger will forever be remembered by cinemagoers for the menacing tyranny that he perfected playing a Nazi commandant in numerous films (most notably 'Stalag 17') – which is ironic, given that he was in fact an Austrian Jew who had come to the US to escape the spectre of Nazism. Preminger was also an accomplished (and, with 38 films to his name, prolific) director, rumoured to have ruled over his sets with as much imperiousness as the characters he so famously portrayed. 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' is the last of a run of films that he made as a director-for-hire for Twentieth Century Fox in the 1940s (along with 'Laura', 'Whirlpool' and 'Fallen Angel'), at a time when the vague shades of film noir were the vogue, and black-and-white had become the medium for a morality that was all grey.

Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews), a New York cop with an obsessive vendetta against gangster Scalise (Gary Merrill), is investigating the murder of a rich Texan at Scalise's illegal dice joint. Already under caution for being too rough with his suspects, Dixon is called off Scalise's scent, but when he visits a possible witness called Paine (Craig Stevens), he strikes the drunken Paine in self-defense and accidentally kills him. In a panic, Dixon dumps the body in the river, only to be assigned to find Paine's killer. Soon he is falling in love with Paine's beautiful, estranged wife Morgan (Gene Tierney), and desperately trying to find a way not only to stop her innocent father Jiggs (Tom Tully) from being found guilty of murdering Paine, but also to redeem himself.

From its opening shot, moving from a pedestrian pavement (with the title written on it in chalk) to the effluent drain alongside it, the film's constant concern is the ease with which one can pass from life's sidewalk to its gutter. The respectable cab driver Jiggs, once given an award for his participation in an arrest, now finds himself facing prison or worse on a murder rap, and the continuing interest of the police in his daughter Morgan makes her lose her successful modelling career. The significantly named Paine is presented as a wife-beating alcoholic who has fallen in with a bad crowd, and is killed ignominiously with a single blow, but we later learn that he is a former war hero reduced to his present state by unemployment and broken pride. With his propensity to anger-driven violence and self-loathing, Paine is an alter ego of Dixon, offering an uncomfortable reflection of what the policeman might easily become, and so it is hardly surprising, when Dixon resorts to disguising himself as Paine as part of a strategy to cover up his death, that the downstairs neighbour fails at first to notice any difference between them. After all, there is more than enough pain in Dixon, whose desperation not to repeat the criminal life of his father is a source of constant torment and moral conflict for him, until it seems that nothing can save him from the gutter he so despises.

Shot in New York City's meanest streets and dirtiest dives, with a sharp hardboiled script by Ben Hecht (based on William Stuart's novel 'Night Cry'), 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' is a gripping thriller with Oedipal underpinnings and a bittersweet ending, that comes highly recommended to all fans of film noir.

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It's Got: A very young Karl Malden as Dixons new chief, the word jerk pronounced with a heavy Brooklyn accent, and a glimpse back to the days when cops both pursued and questioned criminals all in the back of taxicabs.

It Needs: Close attention, to catch all the scripts witty Freudian slips.

DVD Extras English subtitles for the hard of hearing; scene selection (with funny hardboiled titles for each section, like Dice joint DOA, A head full of metal, and Traces of Paine); separate biographies for director Otto Preminger and screenwriter Ben Hecht; original theatrical trailer; stylish animated menus. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

Fallen Angel, Insomnia, Laura, Whirlpool

Summary

A gripping noir thriller with Oedipal underpinnings and a bittersweet ending.

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