Movie watched: Where the Sidewalk Ends
Elapsed time: 95 minutes
Where watched: Home
I was excited to start my year of movie watching with this 1950 Otto Preminger classic, then my friend Tom shared the news about George Kennedy’s passing on his FB feed. While not surprising (the guy was 91) it still bummed me out. Later Tom shared the clip of George Kennedy’s Oscar acceptance speech, from his win for Cool Hand Luke. The clip starts with Bob Hope making a couple of jokes that land poorly as he introduces Patty Duke, who names Kennedy the winner. His speech was just a few seconds long, a mix of warmth, humility and genuine gratitude. Having just watched 24 Oscar acceptance speeches the night before, it certainly was refreshing.
In honor of George’s passing, I will soon do an Airport film festival. I will watch all 4 of the disaster movies (yes, George Kennedy was in all four). God help me.
In the meantime, just where does the sidewalk end? This most delicious of film noir titles is a euphemism for the gutter, which the opening scene of the movie makes clear is exactly where the sidewalk ends. The movie stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. If you’re not familiar with those names, Gene is the lady and Dana is the man. I know. And this particular lady and man had already starred together in the classic film Laura, also directed by Otto Preminger. Laura is a film noir focused on New York’s high society; this movie stays a lot closer to the ground.
Dana Andrews plays a cop with a temper who accidentally kills a guy, then foolishly tries to cover up the accidental crime. Why not just confess, since it was an accident? Because in film noir, characters make foolish choices, for which they will (almost always) ultimately pay. Gene Tierney is the estranged wife of the dead man, and of course she falls for Dana Andrews. Complicating things even further, Gene Tierney’s father (played by the great character actor Tom Tully) is arrested for the murder! If you are a fan of film noir, then you know that the guilty always receive justice in the end, in one form or another. This film actually has a slightly ambiguous ending, allowing the audience to wonder whether Dana Andrews’ last redemptive act will lead to a happy ending.
I’ve always dug Dana Andrews. He is great in this, and half a dozen other film noir as well. I also rememer him from a good episode of “The Twilight Zone.” He had a world weariness about him that was only partly an act, I’m sure. He battled alcoholism for many years, ultimately remaining sober for much of his later life. He also had a photographic memory; he could read a script once and remember it verbatim, for the rest of his life.
Gene Tierney’s popularity was always a bit of a head-scratcher to me. She was undeniably pretty; Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck swore she was the most beautiful woman ever to appear on screen. While that is a bit of hyperbole from a man promoting one of his own properties, he was definitely enamored of her. But her range seems very limited to me. She had a rough go of it in her personal life. She struggled with raising her special needs child, and began to have mental health problems herself. She was institutionalized more than once, and had at least one suicide attempt. Her work was sporadic from the mid 50’s on.
Karl Malden also appears in this movie, as a smug police detective who pretty quickly jumps to conclusions. He is not as concerned with finding the guilty party as he is with proving his own theories correct. A year after making this movie Malden would have a life-changing role in Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire, winning an Oscar in the process.
Otto Preminger is a very underrated director. Far from a household name today, he made at least a dozen solid movies, and a couple of classics. He had a reputation for being a martinet on the set, but he produced quality.
Over the years this movie has come to be regarded as Laura lite, an attempt to recapture the glory of that film. And it does feature the same director, leading actors, cinematographer, editor, etc. But it deserves better than that. While certainly formulaic, as most noir is, it is entertaining. It is full of interesting faces, a lot of character actors that have vanished into obscurity.
Twilight Time did a fantastic job with their blu-ray release of Where the Sidewalk Ends. The print is pristine. If you want to spend 90 minutes in the gutter, you could do worse.