Side Street (1950) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A struggling young father-to-be gives in to temptation and impulsively steals money from the office of a shady lawyer - with catastrophic consequences.

  • 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.

  • New York City. After his gas station goes bust, Joe Norson, unable to find steady work, is forced to take a low paying part-time job as a mail carrier, further forcing him and his wife, Ellen Norson, to move in with her parents. This downturn in their financial situation comes at a crucial time as Ellen is about to give birth to their first child. In the short term, Joe just wants a couple hundred dollars to provide Ellen with private health care and a private room at the hospital when the time comes. Desperate, Joe senses an opportunity to steal that $200, which he saw earlier in the filing cabinet of attorney Victor Backett, whose office is on Joe's delivery route. However, Joe doesn't find $200 in the filing cabinet, but rather $30,000, the entire amount which he steals without knowing it until he is able to check, in private, the briefcase in which the money was placed. Joe was able to handle the thought and explanation for a few hundred, but starts to panic over tens of thousands, the money which he needs to hide from Ellen and her parents, he forced to come up with an elaborate ruse to Ellen to hide it and what he did. Joe is unaware that the money was blackmail money crooked Backett and his criminal associate Georgie Garsell received from their target, wealthy Emil Lorrison, who they set up in a sextortion using their seductive accomplice, Lucille Colner. What makes the money even hotter is that Georgie murdered Lucille following the sting on Lorrison. This situation places Joe and Ellen's lives in danger at the hands of Backett and more violent and volatile Garsell, Ellen who may be at even more risk not knowing anything about the money.

  • Joe Norson and his wife Ellen are a young married couple with a child on the way and living with her parents. Joe delivers mail for the Post Office and dreams of what he'll do if he gets a little money saved up. He rashly steals what he thinks is a file containing $200 from a file cabinet at one of his delivery addresses. He later discovers it is filled with $30,000 in cash and documents about a criminal from an attorney. The cash is from a blackmail scheme that the attorney has carried out using the muscle of the criminal, his client Georgie Garsell, who murders a couple people involved. Joe, reconsidering his actions, tells his wife he has gotten a job upstate, leaves the money with a local bar owner, and holes up in a cheap hotel. When he tries to own up to the crime and return the money, the attorney denies any such money existed. Even worse, when he returns to the bar where he left the cash, he finds that the bar owner has disappeared with the money. By the time he is able to see his new son and tell his wife the truth, the police are tracking down both him and the crooks, who are stalking Joe, and the web of murder and deception grows tighter.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Joe Norson, an expectant father and part-time New York City letter carrier of modest means, dreams of having enough money to take his wife Ellen to Europe. One day, while on his mail delivery route, Joe, frustrated by his inability to provide for his wife and future family, rashly steals what he thinks is a file containing $200 from the office of disreputable lawyer Victor Backett. Joe soon discovers the file contains $30,000 in cash. Unknown to Joe, the cash was blackmail payoff money that Backett extorted from Emil Lorrison, an innocent man who was framed in a sex scandal by the crooked lawyer with the help of beautiful accomplice Lucille Colner and his henchman, Georgie Garsell. As planned, Garsell then killed Colner to eliminate a possible witness and dumped her body in the East River.

    Meanwhile, Joe tries to explain his sudden wealth by telling Ellen that he has taken a lucrative job in Schenectady. For safekeeping, Joe packages the money and leaves it with his pal Nick Drumman, a bartender. A short time later, Ellen gives birth to a baby boy, and Joe, feeling remorse for the theft, decides to return the stolen money. Backett, however, suspects that Joe is trying to trap him, denies any money was stolen, and refuses to accept it so that he can later check Joe's background in secret.

    Backett later sends Garsell to abduct Joe and get the package, but when Garsell opens it, he discovers that the money is missing. When Garsell learns that Drumman has absconded with the $30,000, he kills the bartender and recovers the money. Joe is later sought by the police for Drumman's murder, but he eludes capture and goes to the hospital where Ellen is recuperating from childbirth. Joe explains the story to his wife and she urges him to surrender himself to the police, but he refuses.

    Joe attempts to get incriminating information about Backett and Garsell to clear himself by using documents and a photograph of Garsell's girlfriend, Harriet Sinton, also found in the file that contained the blackmail money. Joe tracks down Sinton, an alcoholic nightclub singer, and begins to ingratiate himself with her. However, she grows suspicious and tips off Garsell who sets a trap for him with the aid of his cab driver friend, Larry Giff. Pretending he is going to drive Sinton home in Giff's cab, Garsell strangles her to death in the back seat to prevent her from talking to the police. Garsell and Giff then take Joe in the cab and head for the river where they intend to kill Joe and dump both bodies.

    They are soon followed by police Captain Walter Anderson and a frantic chase ensues with several police cars closing in. Giff, thinking about his family, begins to panic and Garsell lets him get out, but then shoots him in the back and forces Joe to take the wheel and drive on. In a desperate move to end the chase, Joe yanks the steering wheel and deliberately crashes the cab. Garsell is shot and killed while trying to escape on foot. Joe lives to tell the truth to the police and is reunited with Ellen who arrives at the scene before he is taken away in an ambulance.

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