One of the staples of the genre is the cop who doesn't play by the rules, who seems to be hiding something. I'll admit, I don't get sick of it. Throw that scenario at me 100 times and I'll watch the movie without complaint, as long as it's a well made film.
Well, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a brilliant film, and it's largely in part to Dana Andrew's portrayal of Detective Mark Dixon. Right at the beginning of the film, we're invited in to the top brass office as Dixon gets a dressing down from his superiors. He's been rough and tumble with the "hoods, dusters, mugs, and gutter nickel-rats" one too many times, and he's on final warning. Dixon doesn't care, he's got a job to do and he's going to do it. Andrew's doesn't say as much as he shows, with his eyes and tight lips doing most of the talking. He reminds me of Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential. Quiet, tough, determined.
His determination is soon given the opportunity. At an illegal dice joint, a man, Mr. Morrison has won a hefty sum of $19,000 and he's ready to go home. The man responsible for enticing him there, Paine (Craig Stevens) is a little nervous. He's into these gangsters, and this man leaving with their money won't leave them happy. He tries to get Morrison to stay, and soon they are knocking each other around. When he renders Morrison unconscious, Paine hightails it out of there, leaving boss Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill) to deal with it.
The cops are called, and when the arrive, Morrison is dead, a knife to the chest, and Scalise is laying the blame on Paine. The tension and hatred between Scalise and Dixon is AMAZING! Merrill and Andrews allow the contempt to just bubble under the surface, with Scalise taunting Dixon with past failed prosecutions and an unspoken connection between the two (which will be revealed later). Merrill, with his sideways smile and constant sniffing of nose spray is perfect as the boss. He's confident, creepy, and knows his way around a crime. He's not going to be ruffled by some flat foot.
So now Dixon has a mission, prove Scalise was involved in the Morrison murder. He quickly finds Paine, drunk and belligerent, and before Dixon has a chance to ask him a question, he knocks Paine on his ass, accidentally killing him.
And this is where the film gets great. Does Dixon call his partner or the station, admit to killing Paine and be kicked off the force, possibly facing murder charges for the death of a war hero, or does he frame Scalisi? You know what choice he's going to make.
The rest of the film is a cat and mouse game between Dixon, his supervisor Lt. Thomas, (a stoic and commanding Karl Malden) and Paines widow Morgan (Gene Tierney) whom Dixon has fallen for. It's a tight suspenseful film that will keep you guessing until it's rather unpredictable end.
Rating : 5 stars out of 5.
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