Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews are best known for their roles as Laura Hunt and Lt. Mark McPherson in Laura (Dir. Otto Preminger, 1944) but what some may not know is that the duo worked together in four other films. I love the collaborations of Tierney and Andrews. The two had great chemistry and you could tell there was a mutual respect between them.
Where the Sidewalk Ends reunites Tierney and Andrews in the film noir genre with Laura director Otto Preminger and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle. While Laura showed the sophisticated side of New York City, Where the Sidewalk Ends takes us to the grittier part of the big apple.
If you love Laura, this film will feel very much like a sequel where McPherson has gotten older and has taken us to the streets where the dame who got a fox fur out of him may have lived. In Where the Sidewalk Ends, Andrews once again plays a cop named Mark but this time he is Mark Dixon. Dixon is a tough, lonely detective with a deep hatred for crooks stemming from his roots; his father was a crook. He’ll stop at nothing to put them behind bars and is in trouble with his superiors because he uses the unorthodox method of his right hook to track the bad guys down. One night Dixon goes too far and accidentally kills a suspect, Ken Paine. Instead of coming clean, Dixon tries to cover up his part in the crime inadvertently choosing the path of the thugs he despises most. Thus begins a dark noir full of twists and turns. Dixon tries to pin the murder on slimy gangster Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill in a performance that is sometimes unintentionally hilarious) but instead a cab driver is suspected because he’s the father of Paine’s estranged and abused wife (Gene Tierney). Along the way, Dixon and the wife, Morgan Taylor, begin to develop romantic feelings for each other as Dixon tries to save her father without giving himself away.
I found Where the Sidewalk Ends to be a very strong noir because of Andrews and Tierney’s respective performances.
Andrews turns in a deeply moving performance. Deep down Mark Dixon is a good man trying so desperately to not fall into the footsteps his father’s past left behind. This is a story of a man who wonders if he can truly escape who he is or rather who he was supposed to be. Andrews is quiet but his face speak volumes. You see the pain in his eyes, you see the anguish in his face to do the right thing yet continue to struggle with his quest to bring down the good guys. Andrews brings an honesty and human quality to Dixon that allows the audience to sympathize with him. Like we discussed in the Summer of Darkness course, Investigating Film Noir, Andrews would be considered an existential noir hero. “Innocent people get into terrible jams, too,” Dixon says adding, “One false move and you’re in over your head.”
As Morgan, Tierney exudes a gentleness and warmth to her performance that provides a perfect contrast to what’s unraveling in Dixon’s world. Dixon’s world is dark but when he’s with Morgan it gets a bit brighter. Their chemistry is strong in each of their scenes making their budding romance believable especially the scenes the two share in the diner Dixon frequents. Morgan has been dealing with crooks for far too long that she’s drawn to Dixon because of his kindness, honesty, and dedication to helping clear her father’s name only she doesn’t know the secret he harbors.
If you loved Andrews and Tierney’s work in Laura, you will enjoy Where the Sidewalk Ends. The film is much more dark than Laura, it is gripping with an intensity that has you wondering what will happen next. It moves at a fast pace with fast talking dialogue showcasing the underworld and blue collar realism of Washington Heights.
It’s unfair to bring up Laura because the film features people who were instrumental in making it because Where the Sidewalk Ends is a classic in its own right. I truly adored this film. I loved the unique opening credits that set the tone for the dark story that is about to be told. I loved the cinematography that moves it along. This film came out in 1950 when Andrews,Tierney, and noir were beginning to lose their popularity but there are many great elements to this picture that deserves to be discovered. Where the Sidewalk Ends is a film noir worth checking out but be warned, it’ll make you wish the genre wasn’t dead.