NOTE: This post was actually posted on my Tumblr on November 19, 2015. I am just putting the post here for reference!
I would like to begin by once again thanking Simoa for hosting this wonderful blogathon and paying homage to such an incredible and kind actress as Gene Tierney. It was an honor to participate in such a wonderful project, and I wish it all the success possible. I’ll be putting the entirety of my analysis under a cut, because this will be fairly long. With all of that being said, I wish the lovely Gene Tierney a very happy birthday wherever she might be, and on with the post!
I’ll start by saying that this film has so many elements of the typical noir that it almost feels like Ben Hect spun a wheel in order to find some of the elements of this story. The cynical detective who roughs up bad guys, but secretly has a heart of gold? Check. The dame who is somehow mixed up in all of the trouble and puts the detective in jeopardy? Check. The shady villain that somehow knows all of the answers despite the fact that his goons are as dumb as rocks? Check. The moral ambiguity of our antihero and many of the other characters is the bow that wraps up this archetypal noir. Despite all of this, I still feel like the film did not sacrifice any originality, and while it does fit into the genre of noir, I still found the screenplay to be incredibly exciting and was on the edge of my seat during the film’s entirety.
The making of Where the Sidewalk Ends was a Laura reunion of sorts, with Otto Preminger once again taking the helm as director (and this time producer as well), bringing along his very talented director of photography, Joseph LaShelle. It also features in the leading roles both of Laura’s stars, birthday girl Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, in their fifth and final film together. However, the two most notable outsiders to this reuniting shaped the film as well. First we have screenwriter Ben Hect, who was the best of the best by most classic film standards, and by this time already had numerous classics like Queen Christina,Twentieth Century, Wuthering Heights, and His Girl Friday under his belt.
Also thrown in the mix was costume designer Oleg Cassini, husband of our leading lady. This was his sixth collaboration with his wife, and essentially the last that occurred before their on again and off again marriage collapsed for good. His costumes for Gene in the film are as exquisite as casual wear can be to say the least, seeing as that is exactly what she wears for most of the film. The most notable garment was shown in the beginning of the film, however. A sultry red evening gown shared the same scene in which Oleg himself made a cameo, and it was difficult to focus on one of the other. Gene was offered a chance to keep the gown, but turned it down because the dress was so tight she could barely walk in it. Years later, the dress would be purchased at Cassini’s boutique by none other than Marilyn Monroe, who wore it often in 1952, including to receive her Henrietta Award for Best Young Box Office Personality. The dress was also voted ”the most risque design of the year” by a fashion magazine.
As far as the acting performances in this film go, I’ll first point out that I was thrilled to see Karl Malden in the opening credits, but seeing his small role in the film made me long for his more moving characters in films like On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. Even still, Malden is one of my favorite supporting actors to date, but most of the cast members in this particular film weren’t very memorable. I’ll name the one exception. When I first saw Dana Andrews onscreen in Laura, I suspected that his stellar performance was just a fluke, and that the rest of his acting would be supbar. Where the Sidewalk Endsmade me throw that idea out of the window, and his incredible acting ability is what carries this entire film in my opinion. His portrayal of Detective Mark Dixon reminded me most of Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, as both Dixon and Sam Spade are hard-boiled detectives who are self serving during their respective film’s entirety, only to make the good and honest choice in the end.
Unfortunately I found our beautiful Gene’s performance to be forgettable in comparison to the mystique and dangerous Laura Hunt, but her presence onscreen always brightens my day no matter what film she’s in, so I had no real complaints. The two stars’ onscreen chemistry is undeniable and practically on fire, and I will never wonder again why the two made five films together. I’m starting to believe that the two could do just about anything onscreen for two hours and I’d still want them to wind up together in the end. All in all, the sheer talent involved in the making of this film is enough to capture anyone’s attention, and the fast-paced plot, superb screenwriting, and well and Andrew’s acting make Where the Sidewalk Endsa film to remember. I will agree with most critics when I say that it stands in the dark and gritty shadow of Laura’s more sophisticated noir, but that same realistic shadow is what noir is all about.