Matt Dixon is a police dick known to rough up suspects and marinate in his own self-loathing. After a guy gets bumped off during a gangster’s craps game, it’s Dixon’s job to question suspect Ken Paine. Totally blotto, Paine gets into a tussle with Dixon, who ends up killing the lush. And so, we have an inspector investigating a crime of which he can consider himself one of the perps. Oops.
Film noir can get pretty byzantine at times (just ask Raymond Chandler), and Where the Sidewalk Ends could have gone that route, but Otto Preminger realizes it with perfect clarity. That’s not necessarily a good thing though. The film has the look and elements of noir but lacks the brain-knotting logic, nightmarishness, and lens-smearing seediness that makes something like The Big Sleep compelling cinema even if it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Sidewalk mostly plays as a police procedural with a minimum of violence and a maximum of gabbing. Dana Andrews plays Dixon as totally gutted, disgusted by the legacy of his hood father and the knowledge that he shares too many of dad’s qualities. The performance is correct in itself, but the fact that Paine’s wife Morgan falls for such an uncharismatic schmuck doesn’t make much sense, especially when Morgan is played by the utterly charming Gene Tierney.
Where the Sidewalk Ends is flawed, but it is hardly a wash as the cast swirling around Dixon is a lot of fun to watch. Along with Tierney, there’s Craig Stevens as Paine, Ruth Donnelly as a restaurant owner who enjoys bantering with Dixon and loves him for putting away her abusive husband, Gary Merrill as the smug sleazo running the craps game, Tom Tully as Morgan’s lovable dad who ends up a suspect in Paine’s death, and Karl Malden as a straight-laced lieutenant who doesn’t get that much to do, but we can forgive that since he’s Karl Malden and Karl Malden is always awesome.
Twilight Time’s new blu-ray of Where the Sidewalk Ends looks really nice, and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle certainly made a handsome picture. Contrast is strong and I think I only noticed one or two white specks intrude on a very clean print. A commentary by film historian Eddie Muller rounds out the disc. Get it on the official Twilight Time site here.