Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950) A Street Scene Noir

The "Street Scene" score for Where The Sidewalk Ends is by Alfred Newman.

It was originally used for Street Scene (1931) and was re-cycled by 20th Century Fox as a sort of New York City Noir signature theme. It crops up on, Cry Of The City, Kiss Of Death, I Wake Up Screaming, and The Dark Corner.

The film was directed and produced by Otto Preminger (it's one of the five Classic Film Noir he directed). The writing credits are Ben Hecht for the screenplay. Victor Trivas, Frank P. Rosenberg, and Robert E. Kent  for the story adaptation of the novel Night Cry by William L. Stuart.

The film stars Dana Andrews as sadistic Detective Sgt. Mark Dixon, Gene Tierney as Morgan Taylor-Paine,Gary Merrill as Tommy Scalise, Bert Freed as Detective Sgt. Paul Klein (Dixon's partner), Tom Tully as Jiggs Taylor, Morgan's father, Karl Malden as Detective Lt. Thomas, Ruth Donnelly as Martha, owner of Martha's Cafe, and Craig Stevens as Kenneth Paine.

Caulk on sidewalk title
This film was mostly shot in New York City. There are quite a few establishing shots obviously on location. Other studio shots (either Kaufman or Gold Meadow don't know which) and sets make use of various New York City back screen projections. Being a former New York City resident, it's fun to figure out where some of the films neighborhoods are supposed to be. A wall map in the 16th Precinct squad room shows on the East 5th Avenue, West to the Hudson and from Central Park South  to 42nd Street. The 16th Precinct covered the area of Manhattan between W. 42nd St. and W. 52nd St. West of Fifth Avenue to the Hudson River. Its station house was on W. 47th Street. It encompassed Times Square and Hell's Kitchen. A rear screen projection in the opening sequence shows Chinatown and then a squad car passing the entrance sign to the Holland Tunnel, then it shows the skyline from what appears to be the West Side Highway. A backdrop through the window of the precinct house detective squad locker room shows the Paramount building and it's clock tower at 1501 Broadway. Anybody who's read Cornell Woolrich's Dead Line At Dawn, knows it plays a prominent part in the novel.

The Paramount Building

Another scene of the Taylor apartment shows the George Washington Bridge through a window, giving it a Washington Heights local. There is a scene down on Pike Street where the Manhattan Bridge is in the background its The Lower East Side. Later a body is recovered from the East River between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, Chinatown. Another sequence has what appears to be an "el" station. The nearest to the Pike Street Lower East Side location would have been the 3rd Avenue el, but this one is a case of "movie" geography, There would have been no "el" station visible from Pike Street, the only other feasible possibility would be a subway train stopping on it's way over the Manhattan Bridge but there are no stations on the Manhattan Bridge.

Dixon (Andrews) and Klein (Freed)

16th Precinct House
N.Y.P.D. Detective Dixon (Andrews ) and his partner Detective Sgt. Klein (Freed) are called back to a precinct detective squad-room meeting. A new head of detectives Lt. Thomas (Malden) is holding an introductory meeting. While there, Detective Inspector Foley calls him aside and chastises Dixon about his latest brutality complaint making now a string of thirteen,

Insp. Nicholas Foley (Robert F. Simon)

Insp. Nicholas Foley: Your job is to detect criminals, not to punish them.

Dixon pushes back saying that he get's results. Foley tells him he's dropping him down a pay grade, and if he gets another complaint he'll be pounding a beat in uniform.

"I get results"
Meanwhile Tommy Scalise (Merrill), a mid town hood, is running an illegal crap game in a suite of rooms in a Times Square Hotel. Newspaper reporter Ken Paine (Stevens) and his ex wife Morgan Taylor-Paine (Tierney) have snagged a "fish" from Texas and brought him up to the game.

Tommy Scalise center (Merrill)

Morgan (Tierney) and Paine (Stevens)

the "fish from Texas third from right
The "fish" though, instead of dropping his wad manages to get up $19,000. At that point in the game Morgan declares that she has to work tomorrow and must go home. The Texas "fish" is all to happy to leave. Scalise mentions to him that it's not right to leave with all that cash and not give them a chance to win some back, but the "fish" counters that don't worry he's in New York City for the week and will be back to the game.

Ken is mortified and Scalise and his crew are pissed. Ken confronts Morgan who insists she must leave. When she protests Ken slaps her. The 'fish" sees that and takes a slug at Ken. A short fight results in the "fish" knocked out and laying on the sofa and Ken and Morgan leaving.

Back out on patrol after their meeting, the patrol car carrying Dixon and Klein are called to a murder scene at a Times Square Hotel. It turns out the "fish" has gotten a knife through the heart and is dead in Scalise's suite.

Scalise points a finger at Paine saying he was pretty drunk. From dispatch they get a Pike Street address for Paine and head downtown. His brownstone apartment is empty but all his clothes and belongings are still there. Dixon says he' ll hang around and wait while Klein checks to see if he's out drinking in the neighborhood bars.

Pike Street with Manhattan Bridge in the Background
Paine arrives at his flop and Dixon gives him the third degree. He tell's Paine that Scalise has pinned a murder on him. Paine, a belligerent drunk, refuses to go up to the station house with Dixon. After a brief struggle Dixon slugs Paine who falls down and hits his head on the floor. The fall actually kills Paine who, turns out,  was a war hero and had a silver plate in his head.

Panicked and thinking quick, Dixon get's a suitcase out of the closet, makes his apartment it look as if Paine grabbed his clothes and beat feet out of town.  Dixon drags Paine's body into an empty closet. Wearing Paine's trench coat he leaves the house and flags a cab down. Pennsylvania station he tells the cabby.  At the station ticket counter he buys a ticket for Pittsburgh and checks the suitcase into the baggage room. When he gets back to Pike Street Klein is waiting for him in the apartment. He tell's Klein that he got tired of waiting and figured he'd also check out more neighborhood bars. Klein reveals that apparently while he was gone Paine showed up and split. Dixon tells Klein to take a cab back to the precinct and organize a dragnet for Paine. He'll cruise around the neighborhood to see if he's still possibly nearby.

Setting up the false getaway

Jiggs leaving Pike Street

Third Ave el or Manhattan Bridge subway?
When Klein heads off in a cab Dixon grabs Paine's body and hauls him into the hall. He hears a car squeal to a stop outside and ducks with the body behind a stairway. Jiggs Taylor (Tully), a cabby and Morgan's father comes into the hall and beats on Paine's door. Finding the door open and Paine gone he splits.

Jiggs (Tom Tully) and Dixon with George Washington Bridge through window
Dixon, once the coast is clear, gets the squad car, throws Paine in the back seat, and drives to the nearby East River. There, he knocks out a watchman and dumps Paine's body into the river.

Later, back at the squad room, Detective Thomas tells Dixon that they got a lead on the woman who was with Paine. Dixon heads to the salon where Morgan works as a dress model. He gets smitten with her, and takes her to lunch. At the restaurant he gets a call from the precinct telling him to report to an address under the Brooklyn Bridge. Paine's body was found floating in the river.

Later, Detective Thomas finds out about Jiggs going to visit Paine and suspects him as Paine's killer. It all goes Noirsville when Jiggs is arrested.


Neville Brand

The main difference in the novel is that Paine has Morgan as his girlfriend rather than as an ex wife. Dixon still gets rough with him and accidentally kills him. In the novel it's Morgan who is the suspect in Paine's murder.

The film was supposed to try and keep the burner going under the Andrews/Tierney magic that ignited in the film Laura. It does manage to create some sympathy for Dixon's character once his backstory is revealed. Scalise is played to the hilt by Gary Merrill, he comes off as sort of a less sleasy more suave, slicker version of most of the type of characters played by Dan Duryea. Merrill obviously got more traction out of this. He did make quite a few more noirs but I've never seen half of them, Another Man's Poison (1951), Phone Call from a Stranger (1952), Night Without Sleep (1952), The Human Jungle (1954). I have seen A Blueprint for Murder (1953), Witness to Murder (1954) and the Transitional Noirs The Savage Eye (1960), and The Incident (1967).

Entertaining 8/10

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