Side Street (1950)

Side Street (1950) is an urban slice of romantic classic film noir, starring love-birds Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger.

The couple who debuted in They Live By Night, the debut too of director Anthony Mann, made a total of four noirs in a line.

Although the action in Side Street is underpinned by the hard city, with its dark corners, bars, cop shops, rentals, night clubs and stone blocks.

Side Street makes a virtue of every urban geography going, a psychogeography in fact of the young man wrestling with the madness of the city whirlpool.

The city is filmed constantly throughout, a place of promise to begin with and straight on into the action, transformed by crime - - by a crime - -  into a depth charged doom hole of paranoia, doubt and fear.

What also makes Side Street so interesting is the violence, rather extremely played, particularly with the strangling. And it is also cool that Fraley Granger as Joe Norson attempts to atone, in a way that few other film noir heroes do.

The saps usually go all the way down to the end. And never atone. The pain of atonement, guided of course by the good lady love of  love-a-dove lady Cathy O'Donnell  - - as Ellen Norson, his young wife.

Side Street (1950) - - film noir and the city

This is the city into which you will be plunged, your trail broke and fear blazing in your mind, the moment after you make a wrong decision. In the city the stakes are high.

This city was interestingly shot from a blimp, for the production, which was pretty high budget for its day.

Mo' money  . . . Farley Granger in Side Street (1950)

After having committed a rash and ultimately dangerous theft, Farley Granger as struggling postal worker and father-to-be Joe Orson begins to live a twilight life, pretending to his wife that he still has a job, messed up inside, conscious stricken and panicked at the sound of every siren. 

Both Joe and his father-in-law, as it happens, have quintessential mid-century NYC jobs: letter carrier and subway operator. The same working man's dynamic would be shown in The Honeymooners (1955).

The movie gets rollin' with a blackmail pay-off:

Emil Lorrison: [making a blackmail payoff to his mistress] I couldn't raise the whole amount, only half. That's all I'll be able to raise.

Lucille 'Lucky' Colner: Oh, come on now, sweetie. That isn't what Dun and Bradstreet says. They give you a double "A" rating.

Emil Lorrison: Those ratings mean nothing. Fifteen thousand was all I could manage.


Emil Lorrison: The entire affair was a filthy frame-up!

Lucille 'Lucky' Colner: [with contempt] Take a look at yourself, Grandpa. First you sell yourself I'm nuts about you, crazy for your manly charms. And now you think this is bargain day. Well, go on down to Gimbel's Bargain Basement! You're in the wrong department! Take that other fifteen grand out of your pants or get out! I got a dinner date.

[pauses, continues with a smirk]

Lucille 'Lucky' Colner: I could do business with your wife.
This is the world that is about to collide with Joe Orson, and we are going to see the bad decisions he makes, and his attempts to unravel them as the side street he has chosen opens hellishly wide. The joy of this film noir is just how bad the villains he has accidentally wound up embroiled with, are.

'The guy don't know the right time' as one crooked taxi driver observed. And if there are two noir cities, the studio built kind and the real action location based one, Side Street created the feeling of being lost and exposed, simply by shooting so much of its action on location in New York. 

Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell
Side Street (1950)

The tropes include diversion; insofar as a man is deviated from his course. Hence Side Street, a wrong turn, a metaphorical and literal bad choice in the urban jungle. 

As in Naked City and some other fine urban New York noir, the film is framed and intriguingly introduced via aerial photography showing the maze from the top angle, the mad God’s eye view.

Captain Walter Anderson: [to another detective who is removing bundles of cash from a gunned-down criminal's body] That's evidence, you know - no souvenirs.

The cold view from the police is the noir procedurally delivered, as they too navigate with moral rigour the city in which there is more than a murder every day.  In some films the cops are a force of violent virtue, delivered hard; in some time they are the criminals.

Farley Granger's plan in Side Street is a preying to weakness that sends him to alternate universe, the works of paranoia induced by crime. And he can't face love with this great guilt he carries.

On the side streets of Side Street where he loses his way, drops lower and slowly into his self imposed crisis Farley Granger sweats increasingly more each scene as he becomes lost on his own road to redemption.

The taxi of violence claims another victim in Side Street (1950)

Farley Granger as Joe Orson stole money and he will pay forever. Magic moments emerge within true love, the likes of which is never better expressed in film noir than by Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger. 

The city is never more adored by the cameras as we enjoy an even more special Hollywood trope: the fella hunted by both the cops and the gangsters.

Criminal descent in Side Street (1950)

And as he pieces together the results of the mess he had made what is quintessentially film noir about Farley Granger's exploits as Joe Norson is that he sienna the second hand of the picture solving his own crime.

Joe Norson's journey takes him into clubs and many other places a young father should not ever be found. Ultimately he is drinking with a beautiful alcoholic night club singer played hypnotically by Jean Hagen.

Jean Hagan in Side Street (1950)

Jean Hagen does not intend to be or present as any femme fatale. Rather she is more the victim. Always an unwilling part of a sting, hit or dupe fir her tough guy boyfriend, Georgie Gessel played by James Craig, compromising herself into crime and into death. 

The net starts to neatly tie, because Side Street is not the most complex of narratives, but instead finds virtue in some of the best New York photography of 1950.

Masterfully achieved car-flip in Side Street (1950)

Beautifully composed, executed, pointed photography of the city throughout, and dutifully many side streets down and around which the vehicles eventually chase. 

The woman ain't what you think. Drunk, sexy and a little silly all of a sudden - - Jean Hagen as Harriet Sinton ('sin town'?) in Side Street (1950)

The tropes of weakness, aspiration, marriage, theft and being dangerously lost in the city are played out to the letter, composed in an emotional fashion with unusually high doses of optimism for noir. 

Watching over us all - - the moral hand of the law in Side Street (1950)

Young love, mother and fatherhood and virtue 
Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger in Side Street (1950)

Slip Down Side Street at Wikipedia

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