Where the Sidewalk Ends (Otto Preminger / U.S., 1950):

The sidewalk doesn’t so much end as merge with the gutter, that's Otto Preminger’s noir city, the camera tilts down from the scrawled titles and there’s the sewer. (Lynch throws a light on this in Blue Velvet’s celebrated overture.) The police and the war are the parallel histories of violence, the patrolling hothead (Dana Andrews) who must "try to learn not to hate hoods so much" trades blows with the battleground hero (Craig Stevens) with a box of medals and underworld connections. A Texas millionaire dies at a floating crap game, the veteran is framed and suffers a cracked skull following a scuffle with the detective, who dumps his corpse in the river. That's merely the jumping-off point—the crime goes on to encompass the dead man's estranged wife (Gene Tierney) and her cabbie dad (Tom Tully) while the oleaginous mobster (Gary Merrill) holds court in Turkish baths. In the midst of the various curves and loops of "comic-strip stuff," a superb minute of stillness: Dissolve from night to dawn seen through a grilled police station window, then a quick pan over to Andrews hunched over a pile of cigarettes, squashed by guilt and fear. "I'll fix your head." "I suggest you use an ax." A beautiful system of obsessions, a Ben Hecht blueprint charged by some of Preminger's most penetrating camerawork, triangular set-ups that modulate from medium shots to close-ups and back in lengthy takes. Not a nightmare (Lang's The Woman in the Window) but a purgation, the tormented cop who exorcizes his crooked father's shadow by riding the gangland elevator, busting his spiritual brother and admitting his guilt under his sweetheart's gaze. All that, plus a remarkably succinct evocation of marriage in two shots or so, a midnight visit to the detective's partner (Bert Freed) that leaves an indelible imprint of domestic irritation and resilience. Lumet in The Offence holds up a mirror, though not before Preminger’s own adjustments in Anatomy of a Murder. Cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. With Karl Malden, Ruth Donnelly, Don Appell, and Neville Brand. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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