Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Otto Preminger

Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is a cop whose head is filled with demons. He loathes criminals having had a father who was in the life. A bitter, brutal cop who does not like to follow the rules, he had no problem smacking around a potential suspect to get him to talk. A predecessor to Dirty Harry, Dixon’s views the law as way too soft on criminals.

Set in a New York filled with underworld thugs, the film is a dark look at Dixon’s obsessive pursuit of gangster Tommy Scalise, a former associate of his father. Preminger portrays Dixon as a loner, haunted by the past without any moral compass.

Kenneth Paine (Craig Stevens), a gambler and a decorated war hero gets into a fight with another gambler while gambling at one of Scalise joints. While investigating the murder Dixon accidently kills Paine. Dixon makes the crucial mistake of covering up the murder, even allowing Paine’s former father in law (Tom Tully) to be arrested for the crime, this after he begins a relationship with Morgan (Gene Tierney), a fashion model and Paine’s widow. As his life spirals out of control, Dixon attempts to frame Scalise for the two murders however, Dixon’s superiors see Morgan’s Dad as the prime suspect and it looks like he is going to take the fall. When convinced that Morgan will wait for him, love forces Dixon to face his demons and confess.

From the mid 1940’s to the early 1950’s Preminger directed a series of noir films that cement his reputation, starting with “Laura”, his most successful work. “Fallen Angel”, “Whirlpool”, “Angel Face” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” followed. Working with cinematographer Joseph LaShelle in “Where the Sidewalks End”, they created a claustrophobic bleak seedy post world war two vision of 1950’s America.

One of the most noteworthy shots takes place approximately 19 minutes into the film when Dixon goes to Paine’s apartment, apparently located on Pike Street in Manhattan. This is where Preminger and LaShelle recreate the famous Benenice Abbott photograph of the Manhattan Bridge framed by tenements on both sides. Modern audiences will recognize this shot as Sergio Leone recreated it once again in his own 1984 epic, “Once Upon a Time in America.”

The film is based on a novel called “Night Cry” by William L. Stuart. It was originally purchased by an independent producer named Frank P. Rosenberg Jr. who would eventually sell the rights to 20h Century Fox. Ben Hecht, who worked with Preminger previously, was assigned to write the screenplay. Apparently, earlier versions of the script had gangster Scalise as a drug addict but that was dropped from the script on orders from the censors. Still, Scalise throughout the film is seen using a nose inhaler that could suggest many things. Preminger shot for three weeks on location in New York before moving to Hollywood for the remainder of the shoot.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney were both veterans who worked with Preminger before, together in “Laura” some six years earlier, and separately. Andrews starred in “Fallen Angel” and “Daisy Kenyon” and Tierney previously worked on “Whirlpool.” Andrews plays Dixon as a loner (note how many shots Preminger has Dixon stand alone isolated from everyone else), a tight lipped, rage filled, yet vulnerable detective whose only outlet is taking it out on the gangster scum controlling the grimy streets. Tierney is very good as Morgan, a kind gentle woman forced to face unfortunate disastrous life situations that are out of her control. The cast also includes Gary Merrill, an interesting choice, as Scalise, Karl Malden as Dixon’s superior Detective Lt. Thomas, Neville Brand as one of Scalise’s hoods and Ruth Donnelly as a local restaurant owner/match maker. “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is just one of many superb film noirs released in 1950, a year that included Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd”, Dassin’s “Night and the City”, Kazan’s “Panic in the Streets”, Joseph H. Lewis’  “Gun Crazy” and Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle.”

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13 comments on “Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) Otto Preminger

  1. Maurizio Roca says:

    1950 may be the single greatest year for film noir. In A Lonely Place is another wonderful movie that was released this year. I find Where The Sidewalk Ends to be of slightly lesser quality then a few other noirs mentioned. After Laura, its Preminger’s best in the genre though. I must admit that I enjoy Fallen Angel even if the plot is somewhat far fetched. The marriage between Eric and June is beyond improbable.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Maurizio for mentioning IN A LONELY PLACE, I had it on my list to be included and then did not add it in. I am a fan of this film though I would not place it in my top 25. Andrews I think gives one of his best performances. I do agree LAURA is OTTO’sbest noir and I would rate ANGEL FACE up there too.

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  2. I am glad to read about this film and will attempt to see it soon. This site is important because it promotes classic films. Little by little this country will see that we have an enormous cache of works that constitute a significant segment of our culture.

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  3. John, I read Sam’s post on you in his ongoing series of bloggers who have really made a difference. I posted a comment there which I’m cross-posting at both your blogs…

    Wow Sam, that’s a tremendous cover on Twenty Four Frames Per Second & Watching Shadows on the Wall – two of my favourites in the blogosphere, maintained by the eminently knowledgeable and cinephiliac John Greco – also one of the nicest & most courteous persons out there. Its really been a pleasure reading the wonderful pieces that John churns out – not just on movies, but also on movie posters, music, people, and of course, New York City – a city I hope to visit sooner or later. Thanks Sam for providing us with such a marvelous & intimate appraisal of John Greco, “film historian extraordinaire”.

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  4. I just finished watching Where the Sidewalk ends, and I must say, this Otto Preminger vehicle is a very impressive piece of film noir. The seedy side of New York City has been presented with grime and grunge, making the relentless rage of the movie’s protagonist that much more relevant and affecting.

    Dana Andrews, as you’ve noted, did a terrific job by mixing his anger & loner self with just the hint of vulnerability. Gene Tierney, though in my opinion, is nothing more than a pretty, sad goody-two-shoes, making her character hardly worth noting. The importance of her character, thus, lies in the effect she has on Dixon’s persona, and how he decides taking the entire underworld nexus for the sake of the dame, err, lady.

    Great writeup as usual, John.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Shubhajit, I am glad you liked it. I have watched it a few times and it seems to get better and better with every viewing. Your are right about Tierney’s character and the effect it has on Dixon.

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  5. Dave says:

    Sorry I’m late tot his one, John. I think this is an incredibly underrated noir and at times I think I might actually prefer it to Laura. It’s certainly darker and more “noir” in terms of the storyline, but both are truly great films.

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  6. John Greco says:

    I love this film and watch it every so often. My only problem with it sometimes is the ending but over it is a minor complaint.

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    • John Greco says:

      Hi Bill,

      According to IMDB it is not him. Lewis made his first appearance on 1959 on TV in 1959 and his first film in 1960 (Pretty Boy Floyd) some ten years after this film.

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  7. Bill says:

    Hi, was Al Lewis ( Grandpa Munster ) in the 1950 film ” Where the sidewalk ends ” ? one of the Mobsters body guards looks like him at 27. Bill

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