Where the Sidewalk Ends

| August 16, 2011

Weekend at Tierney’s
For the past few months I’ve been upset with Otto Preminger. After falling in love with his classics like Man with a Golden Arm and Laura, I further pursued the director’s career only to find myself disappointed.
The film that Truffaut raved about, Bonjour Tristesse, was nothing more than unenthusiastic melodrama, while one of Preminger’s later films, Bunny Lake is Missing, failed to cause any sensation in me, despite the cameos from Noël Coward and The Zombies .
Having enjoyed Laura as one of the shining lights in the easily mimicked film noir genre, I decided to see if Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney could pull off another gem in Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Where the Sidewalk Ends tells the story of Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) and his accidental murder of Kenneth Paine. Chastised for his heavy-handed tactics, the detective is warned that he better “wise up” or “he may not have a job no more.” Meanwhile, gangster Tommy Scalise’s underground dice game goes awry when his partner-in-crime, Ken Paine, brings over a lucky friend.
Angered that his lucky “sucker” might be leaving, Paine attacks and kills the man. Dixon, finding out the murderer was Scalise’s friend, arrives at the criminal’s house to bring him down to the station. After being attacked, Dixon accidentally kills Paine in self-defense. Worried that he might lose his job, the detective creates a clever rouse to ward off the police, Scalise, and most importantly, Paine’s estranged wife, Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney).
If there is one thing you can count on from Preminger, it’s camera movement. Reaping the genre’s title and definition for all it’s worth, the man behind the camera once again proves his celebrity in 40-50’s American cinema. Full of stomach churning camera edits, Preminger almost gets away with another classic.
The problems in Where the Sidewalk Ends are not necessarily within story or acting, but rather with the film’s subplots. A problem that seems inherent to Preminger. Embarrassed by his mobster father and criminal upbringing, Detective Dixon refuses us a back story until 70 minutes into the 90-minute film. A characteristic, I might add, that is supposedly driving his insatiable urge to “pummel street punks.”
Furthermore, released in 1950, in the height of consumerism, Where the Sidewalk Ends reeks of American propaganda. In two scenes I can’t help but not overlook, the film alludes to Dixon’s bachelor lifestyle and how it’s ruining his life. Spoken by Martha, the owner of the detective’s favorite eatery, the scenes present the character as a surrogate mother.
At the end of the film, Preminger, with the help of notable noir writer Ben Hecht, includes enough dramatic elements to leave the viewer feeling satisfied. Though their chemistry is clearly better in Laura, Andrews and Tierney muster enough romance to pass as intimacy. Though it definitely has less-than-stellar moments, Where the Sidewalk Ends shows us that Preminger doesn’t always need a good story to pass off a decent film.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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