Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Underrated Movie #104: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Title: Where the Sidewalk Ends
Year: 1950
Director: Otto Preminger
Writers: Screenplay by Ben Hecht, “Adaptation by Victor Trivas, Frank P. Rosenberg and Robert E. Kent”, from a novel by William L. Stuart
Stars: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill, Bert Freed, Karl Malden

The Story: Andrews already has one brutality-complaint too many against him, so he’s really in a jam when he punches out a war hero with a plate in his head who falls down dead. He tries to pin the body on a sleazy mobster, but accidentally frames the cabbie father of the one woman who understands him.

How it Came to be Underrated: This movie has always suffered in comparison to an earlier noir with same leads and director, Laura. That classic is a glossy high-end noir, while this one was a low-budget quickie, so it never could match up.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Like Edward Dmytryk or Anthony Mann, Preminger was brilliant at making little movies that didn’t cost much money, but lost a lot of his artistry when it came to the big prestige epics that Hollywood preferred him to make. Watching this hard little 94 minute gem, it’s hard to believe that Preminger would soon be routinely turning in cuts that were twice that length.
  2. One of the sub-genres of noir was the police procedural, where we would methodically follow each and every step on the circuitous route to solving a case. This is a little different: it’s the first police brutality procedural, calmly tracing each slippery step of a beating and botched cover-up. At the time, you might get the occasional movie where one bad cop was “on the take”, but how many movies from this era can you name where police brutality wasn’t just some scam made up by crooks trying to score sympathy points? Andrews doesn’t play him as a brute, either, just a smart detective who gave in one time too many to his flashes of prideful anger.
  3. Gary Merrill was most famous for playing second banana to Bette Davis, on and off screen. But he gets a chance to be his own man here, oozing supreme confidence as the original teflon don.
  4. Andrews and Tierney had such wonderfully poisonous chemistry in Laura. It’s nice to see them recreate it in an ironically sweeter courtship here. In the earlier movie, their relationship seemed doomed by false suspicion. Here they get along fine because of a lack of suspicion that would have been well-warranted.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Most people just know Tierney from Laura, but this and Leave Her to Heaven prove that she belongs with the best of the noir dames.

How Available Is It?: It’s on DVD and Watch Instantly, which has a very nice print for once.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: The Murderer Was On The Jury!


Anonymous said...

I'd say Preminger was underrated in general. And that WHERE THE SIDEWALK ends holds up much better than LAURA.

How about that shot in the parking garage elevator? Or the final moments when the protagonist has to make his fateful choice--he could get away with it if he wants, but then he'd have to live with himself.

Otto was a darling of the New Wave critics with Godard swooning over shots in some of these old noirs and then casting Seberg out of BONJOUR TRISTESSE. I've caught up with a number of Preminger films in the past year and really enjoyed ANGEL FACE too. And ADVISE AND CONSENT seems barely to have aged at all. It's one of his one later, longer film whose length seems entirely justified.

Matt Bird said...

Oh yeah, Andrews underplays those final moments wonderfully.

What I really love about the ending is that we're left with the knowledge that, if the movie had ended three minutes earlier, then it would have been WAY ahead of its time in terms of breaking the code, and I think Hecht and Preminger wanted the ghost of that possibility to linger in our heads.

Anonymous said...

Another movie from this era with real police brutality: On Dangerous Ground.