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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Granger as flawed Everyman caught up in an urban vortex
A dazzling aerial shot taken high above the Empire State Building opens Anthony Mann's Side Street, and, throughout the movie, glimpses of that New York obelisk recur sometimes dark and menacing, sometimes caught at the vanishing point of an urban canyon. It's a subtle image of the wide gulf on a narrow island between the pride and power of the haves and the borderline, hand-to-mouth lives of the have-nots for whom it's a distant and alien totem.
War veteran Farley Granger tries to make ends meet by shouldering a mail bag part-time; he and his pregnant wife Cathy O'Donnell (the pair reunited from the previous year's They Live By Night) live in a bedroom of his folks' railroad flat. Delivering one day to a shyster lawyer (Edmon Ryan), he spots a few big bills strewn carelessly about; the next, when he finds the office empty, he succumbs to temptation, only to find that the couple of hundred he thought he copped is really about $30-grand. Out of his depth, he wraps up the cash and gives it to a bartender to keep, while he checks into a fleabag hotel to think things out.
The money's a payoff in Ryan's blackmail racket, whose chief lure is Adele Jergens (misnamed `Lucky,' as she's soon fished out of the river). When Granger decides to come clean and return the money, Ryan denies all knowledge of it (it could link him to Jergen's murder). But he sets his loose cannon of a goon (James Craig) to retrieve the cash any way he can. Granger finds that his trusty barkeep has absconded with his package; when he tracks him down, he finds him dead, too.
A cadre of police assigned to the murder (Charles McGraw and Paul Stewart among them) thinks Granger's the prime suspect, so he has to turn sleuth to clear himself. His trail leads him to a Village dive where one of the numbers in Craig's little black book (Jean Hagen) croons `Easy to Love....'
Side Street hews to the classic noir narrative of the average guy caught up in dark forces he can neither understand nor control, and Granger gives it one of his finer performances, perplexed and terrified at what he's unleashed. And while O'Donnell's role is conventional and secondary, Hagen gives her brief sequence as a boozy moth drawn to a fatal flame a poignant spark (Jergens, platinumed and sequined, does her even briefer sequence proud).
To the extent that Mann indulges in social comment, he leaves it to be inferred (the same year, Granger appeared in the far more explicitly leftist Edge of Doom). At the end, the shots of the opening are rhymed with an eagle-eyed view of a police chase through the deserted streets of lower Manhattan early on a Sunday morning. It's a Bullitt-like ending for a movie that, while gripping, shows far more texture and nuance than Bullitt.
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