Where the Sidewalk Ends (Blu-ray Review)14 Mar, 2016 By: Mike Clark
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Stars Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill, Karl Malden.
With the same leads, director, cinematographer (Joseph LaShelle) and studio, Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (with a screenplay by Ben Hecht) can be seen as the underbelly of Laura — with the sidewalk ending somewhere in a NYC district lower-rent than anything we see in Preminger’s preceding posh masterpiece from 1944 with one of the most durable title tunes ever. Sidewalk isn’t that kind of world-beater, but it’s pretty solid, and this has to be one of the most crisp-looking Blu-rays that Twilight Time has ever put out. I had my eye on buying the Region B Preminger noir set of Sidewalk, Fallen Angel and Whirlpool that got released last fall, but I see that TT has Angel on its upcoming schedule, so we’re on our way for the U.S. equivalent.
Andrews is cast as the same kind of cop here that he played in Laura, but by this time his hard-boiled nature is all-out charred from having been on the burner too long charred, turning him into the kind of borderline dirty cop Robert Ryan would play a year later in Nicholas Ray’s On Dangerous Ground before the Ida Lupino character softens his edges. Like Ryan, he’s prone to beating up not necessarily guilty suspects who are too slimy for him to stomach, and this isn’t going over well with the precinct authority figures (Robert F. Simon, Karl Malden) who sense a PR problem. Andrews’ turning-point episode stems from a gambling den night gone wrong, a debacle not unlike the low-jinks that open William Dieterle’s Dark City, which came out the same year to (among other things) launch Charlton Heston. In this case, a scheme to “take” a visiting out-of-town but cash-heavy goes downhill after an innocent department store dress model on the scene for decorative purposes (Gene Tierney) doesn’t like the way she’s being used and set up there by her estranged husband (future "Peter Gunn" star Craig Stevens as one of the lowlifes).
Without getting too much into spoilers, things then go even further south when Andrews later confronts war hero Stevens in an apartment possibly more minimal than his own and an errant punch forces him to cross the line amid a moral dilemma that hangs over the rest of the picture. This forces Andrews to decoy his superiors and partner on a cold trail to catch a murderer — and definitely puts a damper on a potentially soul-saving relationship with Tierney, who is merely a) gorgeous; b) sweet-natured; and c) equipped with something of a cop-groupie father (Tom Tully) who idolizes his daughter’s new choice of a date.
Preminger was known for his objectivity in telling a lot of his screen stories — as well as for his elegantly precise camera moves (something I notice a lot in a recent viewing of Centennial Summer, which, with its Jerome Kern score, Technicolor and 19th-century setting is more than a little removed from Sidewalk territory). Eddie Muller’s bonus commentary has been carried over from Fox’s old standard DVD, and this near-definitive expert in all things noir is smooth at explaining how Preminger’s camera placements add to some depth in a picture whose premise might be just a tad wee familiar. Muller is also funny enough to have some fun with key Andrews nemesis Gary Merrill — a hood almost always seen with a nose inhaler that he all but ingests like a Twizzler and a living set-up that suggests he’s residing on the poverty row of high-rollers. There are no flashy women around (Tierney’s early appearance was a fluke), and his hideouts aren’t exactly the swankiest around (try sleeping on a cot, boys and girls, that’s inside a parking garage if you want to see how someone lives who hasn’t quite nailed down the formula for making crime pay).
Sidewalk came near the end of Preminger’s notable run at 20th Century-Fox, which seems more fruitful than it did at the time because a lot of these pictures (Forever Amber, Daisy Kenyon, A Royal Scandal, the noirs) now look better than they did at the time. He’d have three more at the studio to go, but the final two were in Scope and color — an entirely different realm that has more in common with the splashier fare he would make as a relatively independent industry force in part two of his uneven but always provocative career. For someone widely regarded as an on-the-set ogre, it’s interesting how many actors he used more than once (or agreed to work with him more than once, with Burgess Meredith probably being the champ). Preminger didn’t only use Tierney and Andrews multiple times in the 1940s; they’d return to him a couple decades later in, respectively, Advise & Consent and In Harm’s Way — two movies it would be fabulous to see released on Blu-ray, judging from the number of times over the years I’ve been rewarded seeing them projected in 35mm Panavision.