Excellent film noir. Great performances, good plotting and pacing, an even tone, and an appropriately gritty atmosphere. Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney have nice chemistry, making his transition to decency from brutality plausible.
Andrew’s Detective Dixon plays both sides of the law, having to cover his tracks after accidentally killing Craig Steven’s gangster character Paine. Disguising himself as Paine to create a false trail makes sense, as well as touching on his ambivalent identity.
Though the plot is rather simple, it intertwines all the main characters. Dixon gets mixed up with Paine, and then with Scalise by killing Paine. Scalise was a protege of Dixon’s dad. The cab driver who gets accused of killing Paine is Morgan’s dad, who is Paine’s estranged wife, then Dixon’s girlfriend. When at its best, noir has a way of throwing people together until they drive each nuts, fall in love, or kill each other.
Andrews looks so cagey for most of the movie that his outbursts almost seem normal. Then he’s got that granite-faced look, even when he’s with Tierney. He spends the entire movie in psychological turmoil.
Tierney’s Morgan is romantic, loyal, and, though not naive, believes that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. Though her brighter outlook ultimately wins out, she has to bear the strain of her dad’s frame-up and Dixon’s dilemma.
The atmosphere is palpable, a three-dimensional crust. We rarely leave seedy bars and hotel rooms, the police station, gangster hang-outs, parking lots, cabs, and all the hours of nighttime. Scalise getting trapped in the elevator was an effective denouement. The sense of confinement in that scene is overwhelming.
Dixon’s rehabilitation with the Department is marred by his confession that he killed Paine. If Where the Sidewalk Ends had ten happy endings it would still be dark and foreboding. Great immersion in a classic film noir. 10/10.