Perhaps because both films were produced and directed by Otto Preminger, and because both New York City police detectives are named Mark, and both are played by Dana Andrews, and both are involved with a girl played by Gene Tierney, Mark Dixon in Where the Sidewalk Ends reminds us of Mark McPherson in Laura (1944). It is an alternative view of McPherson, what the man might have been like with a different backstory. Instead of a war hero and an eternal optimist (I call a man who falls in love with a woman he has every reason to believe is dead an eternal optimist), Mark Dixon is an embittered cynic who continually balks at being in his deceased criminal father’s shadow—someone who must be as hard as nails on criminals to prove to someone, possibly himself, that he isn’t like his father (and becomes therefore more and more like his father). Meanwhile, citizen complaints about his police brutality keep pouring in.
Written primarily by Ben Hecht from William L. Stuart’s novel Night Cry, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a mystery that takes place mostly at night, so it is called a film noir even though the dame here, model Morgan Taylor, isn’t at all an agent of Mark’s downfall but his best hope for redemption. Dixon accidentally kills her estranged husband, whom we’ve seen beat her, after the skuzz-ball attacks him during a private interview about a murder. A piece of collateral damage from the war, Kenneth Paine is a war hero, with a metal plate in his head to prove it (a displacement of Mark McPherson’s plate in his leg?), and as it happens he hasn’t murdered anyone; but the perpetual vulnerability of his head proves fatal when that head meets Dixon’s fist. (Paine throws the first punch.) Dixon executes an elaborate scheme to cover up his involvement, but Taylor’s father ends up the suspect. Dixon does his best to pin Paine’s death on hooligan Scalise, whom Dixon’s father set up in nefarious business, and who therefore is Dixon’s own alternative self, a kind of brother. The production code dictates a preposterous moralizing finish; but up until that point the film mildly intrigues as a way-out example of how the past shadows the present like a guilty thing.