Friday, February 18, 2022

Noir Watch: Side Street (1950)

Watched:  02/13/2022
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM
Viewing:  First
Decade: 1950's
Director:  Anthony Mann

For people familiar with New York or New Yorkers, I'd think this movie would be a kick.  It's filmed partially/ mostly on-location in NYC circa 1950, and they don't skimp on showing the city, including some nifty aerial photography I hear was done from a blimp.

Side Street (1950) is a dead on example of film noir.  Our central figure (Farley Granger!) is in a kind-of-bad-way to begin with, makes a decision to try something he knows is maybe a bad idea (bad risk/ reward calculation), and - indeed - things get out of control.  And there's a good looking woman in a great dress who is nothing but trouble thrown in for requisite contrast to the safe harbor of the idealized domestic situation.

I'm a big fan of They Live By Night, a different movie about our stars Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell as young lovers in a jam.  I'd suggest both films, but I'd watch this one second.  There's nothing wrong with it at all, it just didn't hit me as hard as They Live By Night, which is like a bowling ball and I'm a pin hanging out by my lonesome on the alley.

This one has a great cast and a nifty set-up.  Granger is a postal delivery guy - something that was good for some pocket money after he came back from the war, but now his wife (O'Donnell) is very pregnant and due.  She won't work at least for a while, and there's now an additional life to support.  He happens to see someone dropping a large amount of cash in a file cabinet when he's delivering mail, and he goes back to get the dough.

Unfortunately, that money was part of a hood's blackmail scheme, using the fetching Adele Jergens to dupe prominent figures into affairs and then blackmailing them with the evidence.  Our hood, James Craig, is also murderously neat about covering his tracks.

Look, Cathy O'Donnell is amazing and heart breaking in They Live By Night, but doesn't get enough screentime in Side Street.  We barely even see she and Farley Granger in a moment that isn't steeped in the energy of the very-bad-decision he's made.  O'Donnell's career was broken by studio fuckery, and it's too bad.  She was set to be a completely different kind of move starlet.  

This is one of Jean Hagen's first feature roles, and she's pretty darn good right out of the box.  I was unaware how early Asphalt Jungle was in her career, because Doll is maybe one of my favorite characters in noir - and it's a great performance.  I can see why Huston said "that one" when picking an actor for Doll after seeing Side Street.  

The film has a lot of post-War anxieties baked in, which are everyday anxieties, maybe, but feel particularly acute when you apply them to Veterans and their loved ones trying to get by.  If noir taught us anything, it's that there wasn't a happy ending or a chicken in every pot for our returning soldiers.

But, you know, it's also a compelling story about one guy's very bad decision and not realizing a killer thug was going to want his money back.

I think it's a tight, intense thriller with style to spare and some amazing camera and character work, and some terrific talent all around, from director Anthony Mann to the cast of players.

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