Where The Sidewalk Ends
As Richard Nixon, Bob Halderman and every other politician caught in the wake of the Watergate break-in can tell you, it’s often not the original crime that will do you in but rather the cover-up. It’s a lesson that Mark Dixon, the cop at the heart of Where The Sidewalk Ends would have done well to have learned.
The film opens in a police precinct where the cop corps is gathered to celebrate the promotion of Lt Thomas. He is a colleague of Mark’s who joined the force at the same time. However, while Thomas is racing up the institutional ladder Mark is still on the beat riding a patrol car. Worse yet, he has such a hot temper and a reputation for roughing up criminals, the first thing the district commander does after his friend’s promotion is to threaten Dixon with a demotion back into uniform.
Not that he takes the slightest bit of notice. There is this local gangster by the name of Tommy Scalise, you see. He’s arrogant and seemingly untouchable. Mark is driven by an almost monomaniacal desire to take him down. When word gets to him that a dead body has turned up at one of Scalise’s floating crap games Mark gets himself to the crime scene in double quick time. True to form he assaults the gang boss then picks up the trail of the man in the frame for the killing. When Dixon finds him he once again lets loose with his fists, only this time the recipient ends up dead.
It’s at this point he chooses the Watergate path. Rather than reporting the (accidental) death to his superiors, he cleans the crime scene, dumps the body in the river and arranges a trail that will implicate the gangster boss. For the rest of the film Mark is beset on all sides by the criminals he is trying to frame, his police colleagues, the dead man’s widow and his own conscience. Which will get to him first?
Director Otto Preminger dipped his toe into the Noir genre a couple of times, with this effort, the psycho drama Whirlpool and the supreme Fallen Angel but his career demonstrates he was more at home with courtroom procedurals and political backroom dealings. There are certainly elements of these tropes in his crime pictures and they make this film all the better for it. One sensational scene takes place in the cramped basement apartment of the victim’s neighbour. She saw him leave his place at a time when the police chief thinks he was already dead. Convinced she is mistaken he makes one of his men play act the departure wearing the dead man’s hat and coat. With a terrifying irony it’s Mark who is forced to don the disguise and reenact his own criminal footsteps.
I’m not sure Where The Sidewalk Ends is strictly a noir. There is no femme fatale for a start, and while the protagonist is abstractly on the run from his crimes he is under the protection of his detective’s badge, which remains adamantine right up until the closing credits. However, the intrigue, the ticking clocks and the high contrast lighting (shot on location in Manhattan, those doorways look beautiful) all go a long way to please fans of the genre.
Where The Sidewalk Ends directed by Otto Preminger (1950)
A vengeful police detective on the trail of a gangster boss kills one of his men by misktake. He covers up the crime and his life starts to spin out of control from there.