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20th Century Fox presents
"You don't hate hoodlums, you like to beat them up. You get fun out of it. You like to read about yourself in the newspapers as the tough cop who isn't afraid to wade in anywhere. Your job is to detect criminals, not to punish them!"
DVD ReviewSix years after Laura catapulted Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and director Otto Preminger to Hollywood's A List, the trio reunited for another film noir, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Though both movies take place in New York City, deal with murder, and focus on a police detective's attraction to a beautiful woman, they're worlds apart in location, tone, style, and storyline. No ritzy Park Avenue penthouses, scintillating repartee, or ultra-sophisticated gentry grace Ben Hecht's taut screenplay. In Where the Sidewalk Ends, Tierney and Andrews walk on the wild side, stealing tender moments in cramped, dingy apartments and rundown restaurants while reciting terse dialogue. Preminger infuses the film with a gritty toughness that matches the shady characters and underworld plot, and this time around more fully embraces noir's inimitable stylistic elements. The result is a tidy, tense, and totally satisfying thriller that's never quite gotten the recognition it deserves.
In Laura, Andrews portrayed Mark McPherson, a detective lieutenant with a chip on his shoulder; here, he's Mark Dixon, a detective sergeant with the same chip on his shoulder, as well as the same square jaw, piercing gaze, and bleeding heart. The similarities, however, end there. Dixon has finely honed his reputation as the 16th Precinct's resident loose cannon by systematically roughing up suspects and mouthing off to his superiors. Fed up with his behavior, Inspector Foley (Robert Simon) sternly admonishes Dixon and orders him to employ a kinder, gentler approach or risk a demotion to beat cop. Such pussycat tactics go against Dixon's grain, and while he's investigating the murder of a high roller at a floating crap game run by gangster Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill), drunken suspect Kenneth Paine (Craig Stevens) slugs him. Instinctively, Dixon retaliates with a punch of his own, sending the man to the floor. And killing him.
For reasons revealed later, Dixon decides not to report the accidental death, choosing instead to dump the body in the river and pin the crime on Scalise, who's beaten a host of murder raps in the past. But when Dixon starts falling for Paine's widow (Tierney), and the police label her father (Tom Tully) the prime suspect, his deceitful game begins to spiral out of control.
At first, Where the Sidewalk Ends seems like a standard gangland mystery, but the film takes a startling and tantalizing detour when Dixon throws his lethal right cross. Rarely does a noir cop find himself on the wrong side of the law, and it's fascinating to watch Dixon sweat out the consequences of his violent outburst. In an ironic twist, not only does he pursue the bad guys, he's one himself, and seeing him walk a moral tightrope while forging a hopeless romance with Tierney provides us with a rich and substantive cinematic experience.
In the half-dozen years since Laura, Andrews matured as an actor and developed a serious drinking problem, and in Where the Sidewalk Ends he uses both his talent and his vice to craft a strong, memorable portrayal. He looks weathered and beaten, and adopts a sour demeanor to hide an underlying sensitivity. Much of the film relies on his reaction shots and close-ups to convey myriad emotions, and Andrews admirably rises to the challenge, sucking us into his agonizing dilemma, yet never losing our sympathy. Often dismissed as merely a virile, dependable leading man, Andrews proves here he's on a par with Bogart, Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Richard Widmark as the quintessential noir actor.
Tierney is always a welcome and beautiful (make that gorgeous) presence, but Hecht's screenplay gives her little to do, except appear glamorous and dewy-eyed. None of Laura's mystique or duplicity creeps into the disenchanted wife she very adequately portrays; in fact, seldom has a noir film featured a more bland and uninvolved heroine. Trivia buffs, however, will get a kick out of one of Tierney's early scenes, in which her real-life husband at the time, fashion designer Oleg Cassini, makes a cameo appearance as—what else?—a fashion designer.
Stark locations, deep shadows, and the sparing use of music contribute to the harsh atmosphere Preminger weaves. The director cleverly combines components of classic noir with the flavor of a new movement sweeping through Hollywood—realism—and the marriage works. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a model of this new recombinant form, and proof that Laura's success was no fluke. Preminger, Tierney, and Andrews don't exactly go home again, but this darker side trip is definitely a journey worth taking.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Film noir demands a top-notch transfer, and Fox delivers with this superior effort. Clarity, contrast, and shadow detail are all superb, and very little grain diffuses the stark, glossy look. Blacks are deep enough to drown in, and only a couple of errant blotches dot the pristine print. If Where the Sidewalk Ends looks this good during a daytime viewing, imagine how great it will play at night.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Both mono and stereo tracks are included, though I could distinguish little difference between them. Any surface defects, such as hiss, pops, or crackles have been removed, and subtle accents like footprints, street noise, and fisticuffs are well rendered. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and the minimal music enhances the romantic scenes without intruding upon them.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Dark Corner, No Way Out, Laura
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
An extensive photo gallery features about 50 stills, including on-the-set shots, publicity portraits, poster art, standard scene shots, and a few pictures from what look like deleted sequences. All are in black-and-white, and provide a nice overview of the production. A re-release theatrical trailer, as well as a few trailers for other Fox noir classics, round out the supplemental offerings.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsAn underrated crime yarn distinguished by a clever story and an excellent performance by Dana Andrews, Where the Sidewalk Ends may not be a major work from director Otto Preminger, but it's tight, effective, engrossing, and stylish. Fox provides another terrific transfer that immerses us in the grit and grime of New York's underworld, as well as the gaping shadows and swirling smoke of classic film noir. Recommended.
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