Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mean Streets and Sidewalks, Preminger's Bleak Vision

In Otto Preminger's 1950 hard boiled crime drama, "Where The Sidewalk Ends" (Script by Ben Hecht), Dana Andrews, as Det. Mark Dixon, lays the groundwork for "Dirty" Harry Callahan.
Much like Clint Eastwood's Fascist-leaning crime fighter, Andrews' Dixon can't play by the rules--he'd just as soon slap around crooks and wiseguys, and can't stomach the thought of honoring their constitutional rights.
Andrews gave a similarly sullen performance in another film also directed by Preminger and co-starring Gene Tierney, 1944's "Laura."
In "Laura," Andrews, as Det. Lt. Mark McPherson, obsesses over the murder victim whose case he's assigned to investigate. When the object of McPherson's obsession, Laura, mysteriously appears, very much alive, a new mystery begins to unfold, as does a potential romance between the detective and the would-be murder victim.
But in "Sidewalk," we see a more driven, haunted figure in Andrews' performance. Near the end of the film, we learn that the detective has a dark past. When it looks like the unlucky Dixon will get off the hook for an accidental killing he commits and tries to cover up, he realizes that his only chance for redemption is to turn himself in and suffer the consequences. By doing so he trashes his career and sacrifices his chance for romance with the woman of his dreams. But for him it's the only way to break from his past and begin a new life.
"Laura" is the hands-down more popular of the two films, but for its existential angst and toughness, "Sidewalk" is head and shoulders above its earlier counterpart.

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