Friday, April 07, 2006

The Sidewalk Ends in a Dark Corner

I got a"fix" for my impossible-to-kick Film Noir habit (maybe my favorite film genre of them all, in a close race with melodramas and musicals) by watching a couple of new b/w entries from the excellent 'Fox Film Noir' series, 1950's Where the Sidewalk Ends and 1946's The Dark Corner. Both titles feature Lauraesque elements in casting and/or plotlines; as the 1944 classic is one of my top five or top ten favorite films of all time, the ghost of Laura hung over my viewings of these later releases.

I couldn't work up much enthusiasm for Corner. The film clearly is trying to emulate the success of Laura, borrowing many plot points from the earlier film, but the story never really gels, and the climax seems thrown together just to get the film over with in 99 minutes. Lucille Ball is warm and proficient in her "Girl Friday" role, and she works well with Mark Stevens, portraying the private eye Ball assists. Clifton Webb's also onhand, playing a very similar character to his peerless Waldo Lydecker in Laura, but he doesn't get nearly as many great lines this time. However, Webb (as Hardy Cathcart) is involved in the film's two most memorable scenes, first explaining love to his young wife then, near the end of the film, greeting a thug (played by William Bendix) in a skyscraper. With Cathy Downs (as the wife), Kurt Kreuger, and the great Constance Collier, who I wanted to see a lot more of (she's hardly onscreen- check out 1937's Stage Door to see what Collier could do with a good part).

Where the Sidewalk Ends provided me with a more satisfying entertainment, successfully reuniting the stars and director of Laura, but using an entirely new storyline. Dana Andrews plays tough cop Mark Dixon, who finds himself facing several predicaments in his attempts to overthrow a slimy crime boss (played by Gary Merrill, relishing his opportunity to play a heel). Gene Tierney, beautiful as ever, costars as Andrews' love interest; as in Laura, their soft vocal cadences are perfectly matched, and the chemistry is still there, too. Karl Malden is seen in a relatively small part as a cohort of Dixon's, just before Malden's film career took off via A Streetcar Named Desire. Otto Preminger directs efficiently, keeping the pace moving and the plot points coherent.

But nothing beats Laura. If you haven't yet seen the ultimate Film Noir, get thee to a video store or your NetFlix account immediately and scoop it up. The stars, the story, and that legendary David Raskin score- it all adds up to the screen's most perfect murder mystery. Fox really outdid themselves for the Laura DVD (#1 in the 'Film Noir" series), which includes a fine print of the film and a plethora of extra features (A@E bios of Gene Tierney and Vincent Price, two commentary tracks, etc.- you can easily spend a whole night or two watching all the goodies on this disc).


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