Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Two Toughest Cops Ever

Side Street (1950), is one of two Film Noirs staring Farley Granger and Cathy O'Donnell. The other is They Live by Night, made two years earlier.

They are both excellent noirs, making great use of atmospheric black-and-white photography and making excellent use of the many talented character actors working in film at the time. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, though, I'd probably go with Side Street, which had a slightly more interesting and emotionally engaging story. That's very much a subjective opinion, though. Both movies are really good.

Side Street has Granger playing a part-time postal worker with a pregnant wife and pretty much no money. So when he has a chance to swipe a few hundred dollars out of a lawyer's office, he visibly suppresses his conscience and goes through with it.

So, ironically, it's not good news at all that the file he takes contains not $200.00, but $30,000.00. And it's money tied up in a blackmail and murder case. When he later tries to give it back, all he accomplishes is to make himself a target for murder as well.

Soon there's another murder and he finds himself on the run from both cops and gangsters, trying to figure out what's going on so he can clear himself of that particular crime. The plot is particularly well-constructed here--involving Granger's characters, the crooks and the cops all pursuing their own lines of investigation until everyone piles up together at the climax, resulting in an exciting car chase.

Side Street was directed by Anthony Mann and makes outstanding use of location photography in New York City. New York City should always be photographed in black-and-white. It always looks better that way.

I mentioned the effective use of character actors in meaty roles. Every part--even those that only have a few lines--are perfectly cast and every actor is a natural in the role he/she has. I really wish modern movies would return to the idea of taking that extra effort--that few seconds of additional screen time needed--to give more personality to character parts. It's one of the many reasons my preferences are for older films and classic TV. We just don't see that much anymore.

I particularly appreciate seeing Paul Kelly and Charles McGraw playing police officers. These two actors both excelled at playing tough guys. Watching them together is pure pleasure.

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