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Joe Norson, a poor letter carrier with a sweet, pregnant wife, yields to momentary temptation and steals $30,000 belonging to a pair of ruthless blackmailers who won't stop at murder. After a few days of soul-searching, Joe offers to return the money, only to find that the "friend" he left it with has absconded. Now every move Joe makes plunges him deeper into trouble, as he's pursued and pursuing through the shadowy, sinister side of New York. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Capt. Walter Anderson:
New York City: an architectural jungle where fabulous wealth and the deepest squalor live side by side. New York is the busiest, the loneliest, the kindest, and the cruelest of cities - a murder a day, every day of the year and each murder will wind up on my deak.
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textbook noir is helped by strong Anthony Mann direction and punchy dialog
Side Street opens with narration that is practically omniscient, or at least as much as a New York City cop can get, and put over a very explicitly edited sequence showing various workers and people all across the city. Then it moves right into the saga of Joe (as in 'Average Joe' one might think), who is a postal delivery man who gets tempted by greed when he realizes the same amount is left in a drawer of one of the people he drops off for- $200- which would be just enough to get some new things for his wife and their kid on the way. He takes what's in there (a little grin for when he finds the crowbar to pry open the drawer as a cat watches), but later discovers it's $30,000, which as the narrator tells us is "much too much" for Joe to even think about ever having. He hides it, but it gets switched around from the bartender he left it with, and a nefarious criminal is out to get it as well, who originally left it in the drawer. Joe is racked with guilt, but can't turn himself in all the way: he'll do into part of the seedy underbelly to get it back and clear his name.
And so goes one of those stories that one might find under the dictionary if one went to look for B-noir archetypes (A-noir would probably be Double Indemnity, if it could be considered as such). Even if the femme fatale is reduced to a supporting role (Jean Hagen as the floozy Harriet, a nightclub singer who has a great scene with Granger's Joe), you've got the existential protagonist who's down on his luck and can't stand being a criminal for too long, and the cops who are out to get him and whomever, and the real villain (George played by James Craig fairly typically) who is the most desperate of all to escape at all costs. Granger and O'Connell come close to doing a reprisal of their parts in They Live By Night, only this time with the complication of a baby thrown in right away, and the sides of good conscience always present except for an instance (really amusing) when she screams on the phone to Joe "RUN, RUN AWAY" when prodded to talk him out of what he's doing by the cops.
A lot of this, to those who are only somewhat familiar with the attitude of a solid noir thriller, isn't too surprising, and comes close to being average in story material. But it's heightened terrifically by Anthony Mann's direction; it would be one thing if material like this, which could be found in any pulp mystery magazine of the period for ten cents, was filmed with only competence and some skill in the storytelling. But many of the images in Side Street are indelible and essential for the sub-genre. If for nothing else it's a tour-de-force as far as pure film-making goes, as shots in the shadows are incredible (I loved the nightclub scene in the first images, cutting back and forth between Joe and Harriet), and the editing to go along with it is taut and hard-edged for the period and budget, particularly in the climactic chase through New York City's downtown areas. And, if nothing else should strike as a reason to see it, as far as NYC movies go it's a keeper, with the feeling as gritty as possible through the use of real streets and people and cars and accidents and dark alleys.
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