In 1944, Otto Preminger created his masterpiece, Laura (1944), a murder mystery noir surrounding the investigation into the death of Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), led by Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), who ends up falling in love with her portrait. In 1950, Otto Preminger got together with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle again and made what would become his unsung masterpiece, Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), about a short-tempered cop, Mark Dixon (Andrews), who ends up on the wrong side of the law, despite his best efforts to be a good guy.
I’ve talked about Laura many, many times here on the Garden. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies and 4th favorite noir. There is nothing I don’t love about it. From the second it starts, with the climax of its iconic theme tune and the equally iconic Laura portrait, it demands your attention. That, combined with perhaps the greatest opening line of any noir, is enough to keep Laura permanently in any noir top 10 list. But it doesn’t stop there. ..The mystery itself will keep you guessing until the end. Everybody loved Laura and that was the problem.
Where the Sidewalk Ends, on the other end, is brutal. There is no melancholic theme tune to accompany it, no lost love, only 95 minutes of relentless, unstoppable, fearless… noir. It starts in the most unassuming way, with someone whistling the forever recycled and re-used Street Scene (1931) theme tune whilst walking on the sidewalk, on which the movie’s title is written. As the rest of the credits show up on the screen, two cops drive through New York City as they follow a lead. From that moment on, Where the Sidewalk Ends is nothing but a snake pit of violence, brutality and grittiness.
The fact that these films start in such a strikingly different way tells you pretty much all you need to know about them. Laura invites you in with a welcoming theme tune and the promise of a stylish noir that is just exquisite to look at and fascinating to listen to. Where the Sidewalk Ends delivers an unapologetically raw noir, with brutal scenes and an almost intrusive atmosphere. In both cases, you are 100% drawn to them. Laura offers you a murder mystery whose suspects include Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price), Laura’s on-again, off-again fiance, Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson), her aunt, and of course Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, in an Oscar-nominated performance), perhaps the single most self-centered character in all of film noir, which is saying quite a lot. Sidewalk is full of rotten characters with no redeeming qualities. Well, apart from maybe Mark Dixon, the cop who has always tried to not be like his deadbeat, thieving father. However, despite his best efforts, things turn bad. I mean, really, really bad. He accidentally kills murder suspect Ken Paine (Craig Stevens), and then to make matters worse, he falls in love with Paine’s wife Morgan (Gene Tierney). Despite this, you feel for him. In fact, very few characters in noir have had such a huge emotional and moral turmoil as Dixon.
It’s interesting to see how these two movies have gone down in movie history. Laura is one of the most beloved noirs ever, and definitely the more well-known of the two, whereas Where the Sidewalk Ends is almost inexplicably obscure. Too dark? Or just not shown on TV a lot? I don’t know. All I know is that I was completely enthralled by it. I love the fact that it’s so dark. That’s what I want in my noirs. As for Laura, well… ‘and thus, as history has proved, love is eternal’, says Waldo Lydecker in the movie’s resolution. My love for Laura certainly is.