Monday, January 29, 2007

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (20th Century Fox 1950) Fox Home Video

Otto Preminger’s Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950) is quintessential big city noir, yet problematic storytelling, that nevertheless manages to get top marks all around. Bizarre to say the least, it stars Dana Andrews as Detective Mark Dixon. Dixon is a wild card. His father, Sandy was a criminal of the lowest order who died when Dix’ was only seventeen – some say at the hands of new mobster-about-town, Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill, in an unusually slimy bit of ham acting).

Dixon is determined to shake down Scalise, especially after rich Texan, Will Bender (Don Appell) ends up with a knife in his gut at one of Scalise’s floating crap games. Bender and Scalise stooge, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) got into a bit of a scuff just prior to Bender’s untimely demise. A once decorated war hero who nevertheless likes to beat the stuffing out of guys with cash, and, smack his wife, Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney) around when she doesn’t behave, Paine is primed for a frame up.

At least that’s how Dixon sees it. Hightailing over to Paine’s apartment, Dixon accidentally slugs G.I. Joe in his steel plate, killing his witness. Rather than confess the accident, Dix’ concocts an elaborate hoax and frame up of his own. Only that plan backfires when Morgan’s father Jiggs (Tom Tully), who Dix’ also knows, gets nailed for the crime.

In the final reel Mark decides its better to die than get arrested for killing Paine. He pens a confession to be opened at the time of his death. But surprise, surprise…Mark lives to take the wrap. Seemingly untouched by the fact that the man she’s been romancing for nearly two hours has not only been a liar but the killer of her husband, Morgan vows to see Mark’s pending arrest and incarceration through. Now, ain’t love grand?

The chief problem with the narrative patched together by Ben Hecht and Robert E. Kent is that it zeros in on Dixon from the start. As the audience, we know Dix’ is guilty of murder and a cover up and we can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Scalise, even though he probably murdered the Texan. Where The Sidewalk Ends was a much anticipated reunion flick for Andrews and Tierney who had previously costarred to exemplary effect in Preminger’s Teflon-coated masterpiece of romantic noir, Laura (1944). Yet, as the story wears on Tierney’s character, Morgan, gets pushed aside in favor of a cynical and critical exploit surrounding Mark’s guilty conscience.

Fox’s DVD transfer is near perfect. The stark noir lighting is ideally captured with deep solid blacks, bright whites and a minimal amount of film grain. Fine details are evident throughout. There are no digital anomalies for an image that is smooth yet sharp and ever so easy on the eyes. Truly, there are no complaints here. The audio is mono as it should be and is presented at an adequate listening level.

By now Alfred Newman’s ‘Street Scene’ music is beginning to wear thin on my acoustic nerve. It seems that nearly every Fox noir and/or melodrama (as well as the Marilyn Monroe comedy ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’) has found a way of inserting repeated strains from this one piece of music. Yes, it’s a brilliant composition. But on the 900th listen it does tend to drive one to distraction…like having the needle on an old gramophone stick in the same spot.

Extras include a fairly informative audio commentary, stills gallery, theatrical trailers and Fox’s utterly annoying ‘downloading movies is illegal’ preview that, honestly, isn’t likely to dissuade those who are pirating DVD’s to throw in the towel any time soon. It’s just frustrating for the rest of us who want to pay for the privilege of watching movies without commercials.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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