Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

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*. I like the way the main titles are chalked on the sidewalk, but you have to be alert to get what it is the title is referring to. When they first confront each other, Scalise complains to Dixon: “What are you always tryin’ to push me in the gutter for? I got as much right on the sidewalk as you.”
*. What this means, I think, is that Max is a guy with a foot in both worlds, “half cop and half killer.” That you can take the man out of the gutter but can’t take the gutter out of the man. But really, it’s a pretty allusive title.
*. By the way, this movie came out the same year as Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, so I’m not sure who first came up with the idea of having the title placed there. Perhaps an earlier film did it.
*. I really like the noir genre, but let’s face it, they can’t all be gems. This isn’t one of the standouts.
*. It gets decent review, but I think that’s mainly in deference to the talent, with basically the same team from Laura re-enlisting (Andrews and Tierney as the leads, Preminger directing. Ben Hecht doing the screenplay). Lightning didn’t strike twice. Hecht’s script strikes me as particularly weak, full of implausible stretches and holes. The dialogue has no great lines, and there are big chunks of plot (like the attempt to hire a high-priced lawyer) that serve no purpose.
*. Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney look a bit alike, don’t they?
*. This is what Dirty Harry was like before Dirty Harry. Dixon’s not just a bad cop, corrupt and compromised, but a brute.

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*. Dana Andrews is good, and it’s a real actor’s part. His face is constantly having to show a man operating on two mental tracks.
*. Gene Tierney’s character, on the other hand, is one-dimensional and expendable. She’s a good girl, not a femme fatale, and has no real function in the plot aside to provide the stitching that threads together the different characters.
*. In fact, Tierney’s part makes no sense at all. As Eddie Muller exclaims at one point during his commentary: “This girl is either secretly sneaking the pipe or she’s as thick as a brick. But more to the point, Gene Tierney, unlike her co-star here, can really only convey one emotion at a time.”
*. Karl Malden’s Lieutenant Thomas seems almost as ridiculous to me. His solution of the crime is convoluted to say the least, and has almost no evidence to support it. Everything he says is just a hypothesis. Apparently the final piece of the puzzle is that old Mrs. Tribaum doesn’t remember the man she saw leaving the apartment waving to her, and Mr. Paine always waved! Case closed! Please. And yet Malden blithely orders his men to take Jiggs Taylor away on the strength of this identification. Then at the end Jiggs gets released despite the fact that nothing has been said about any new information regarding Morrison’s murder.
*. Note how, when they’re at the floating crap game, none of the hoods even bats an eye when Tierney gets double-slapped, or when fisticuffs break out between Paine and Morrison. They all just stand around with their hands in their pockets watching.
*. Is it likely that when Jiggs puts his citation back on the wall he would hang it askew?
*. Why would Paine’s body have left a blood stain on the wall? Was he bleeding when he fell and hit his head? Were there bloodstains on the carpet in his apartment? It just seems like a ridiculous clue that’s forced into the screenplay so that Malden can jump to his imaginative conclusion of how it all went down.
*. I wonder if there’s any significance to the various bandages we see Dixon (and Paine) wearing.

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*. Gary Merrill’s Scalise never holds head his head up straight. It’s always drooping over one way, or lolling from side to side. He’s also introduced lying down, as though standing up is too much effort. In all three of the scenes where Dixon confronts him he is first seen stretched out recumbent (lying on top of a bed, on a massage table, and finally on what appears to be a reclining chair or couch). It must be something in that shit he’s always sniffing. What is it? Nasal decongestant? He has three tube of it on the go in the final scene.
*. Watching this movie for the first time, I thought the only interesting thing about it was whether they were going to let Dixon get away with his crime. This makes it interesting to read Bosley Crowther’s contemporary review in the New York Times, where he gives away the entire plot, ending and all. Those were the days before spoiler alerts.
*. I don’t like the ending at all. I think it’s a dramatic mistake to just show a couple of people reading a letter instead of talking to each other. At least Dixon should have told Morgan himself what was going on instead of “letting her read the letter.” Watching people read something silently on screen is even worse than having to listen to them read out loud.
*. Even a sub-par noir will have something to recommend it, and this has several highlights (like Andrews’s fine performance, that wonderful ride in the car elevator, and Preminger’s understated camera movement). But there are a lot of misses here as well, and overall it’s not a film I return to very often.

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