Eye For Film >> Movies >> Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950) Film Review
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
The detective as murderer is now such a hackneyed device that crime writing societies specifically caution against it, but back in 1950, when the crime thriller was at its cinematic apogee, it fitted naturally into the medium - and suited Dana Andrews to a tee. Here he plays Dixon, a troubled police officer who, in seeking to cover up an accidental killing, finds himself losing control of an increasingly fraught situation. Is there a way out? Director Preminger and screenwriter Hecht, reprising what was by then a massively successful pairing, keep the question open in this dark and gritty thriller.
Alongside Andrews is another Preminger stalwart, Gene Tierney, here playing an early incarnation of what would go on to become a major figure in screen melodrama, the battered woman. It's made acceptable to the censors by the fact her husband is a gangster, but whilst it may not pass the Bechdel test, a conversation between Morgan (Tierney's character) and a colleague is important in exploring the issue of abuse and why Morgan stays. the fact she is able to make a proper break only when she falls for Dixon also highlights women's economic vulnerability in the period. In turn, her devotion to Dixon suggests she may not have learned very much, and leaves us with reason to question an ostensibly happy relationship.
Paralleling the stories of domestic violence and police corruption, the film focuses on the idea of hidden violence that could be going on in any part of society, a developing theme in noir at the time. It's one of the strongest films in the genre in terms of its questioning of the police and thereby of the notion that there are authorities one can ultimately turn to, and a complex ending leaves us uncertain whether strict morality or an emotionally satisfying decision will ultimately win out. Key to setting up this dilemma is Andrews' performance, which manages to generate sympathy even for a heavily compromised man most of whose acts have been rooted in selfishness.
Strongly paced and gorgeously shot, the film showcases Hecht's writing at its best and is a perfect fit for Preminger. It's one of the last truly great noirs, before the genre gave way to more simplistic police procedurals and, ahem, black and white thrillers. Here, everything is shadow and uncertainty, with deeply flawed characters whom we can nonetheless root for. It's a must for genre fans and for anyone with an interest in the history of cinema.