MARK DIXON, DETECTIVE, high subversion in the lowlands

The reopening of theaters in mid-2021 sees the return of a cinema with a richer and more eclectic heritage than ever. An opportunity to (re) discover some hidden treasures. Films by celebrated filmmakers with dissertated careers and marked out in every nook and cranny. This Wednesday, June 16 at the Filmothèque du Quartier Latin, Ciné Sorbonne continues its tribute cycle to 20th Century Fox on four works from the studio with the broadcast of Mark Dixon detective. Catch-up session therefore for aficionados of the American-Austrian director, Otto Preminger, master of film noir and this artifact of the genre, long crushed by Laura’s shadow.

At the dawn of a new decade comes the synthesis of the previous one. Also accompanied by the next germs. And the fifties are no exception in all of world cinema. After all, 1950 marks the year of Rashōmon which upsets the rules of classical storytelling, Orpheus those of the fantastic genre coupled with the experimental and Los Olvidados those of the cold, almost nihilistic neorealist chronicle. The disorder parasitizes established mythological patterns. Certainties are shattered, as well as moral gains. Even if ideological postures and religious dogmas persist, the erosion of values ​​is lurking.

In Hollywood, this change can be seen through the portrait of manipulative and ruthless anti-heroes, eager to bend society to their egos. White Heat of Raoul Walsh (1949) testifies to a deep radicalization of the gangster, diabolical and cruel, ready to all excess of violence until the final bouquet. Eve of Joseph Mankiewicz twists the expectations of the success story on Broadway to better portray the upstart monster being created there. The Asphalt Jungle of John huston offers this failed heist where each member, as professional as he is, reveals his weakness as it disintegrates. But it is above all In a Lonely Place of Nicholas ray which places the figure ofHumphrey Bogart, chaotic screenwriter suspected of homicide, in a disturbing position. Within Truman’s America, the Cinema Man reflects this loss of identity benchmarks. More lively than ever since the start of the Korean War in June 1950, almost 10 years after Pearl Harbor, 8 years after the creation of the Japanese-American camps and 5 years after the atomic bomb. The reflection of this human failure interferes in spite of itself in these feature films, each falling within a specific genre. Unlike its illustrious models mentioned above, Where the Sidewalk Ends (MARK DIXON, DETECTIVE) does not enjoy the same posterity but also belongs to this seraglio of pioneering work and protest in their style.

“Your job is to hunt down criminals, not to punish them”. A sentence heavy with meaning, spoken to Detective Dixon, known for his brutality within the Police and in the streets of New York. The latter investigates the murder of a wealthy Texan by the gang of Tommy Scalise, a mobster Dixon is obsessed with shutting down. During the interrogation of a henchman, the investigator loses his temper and kills the suspect by accident. Dixon, horrified by his act, dumps the body in the docks, in vain. Upon discovery of the corpse, a taxi driver is wrongly accused. The fallen detective finds himself torn between the desire to confess his crime, his love for the widow of his victim (also the daughter of the innocent driver) and his thirst for revenge on Scalise. Which route will he choose?

From this fatalistic crossroads, Otto Preminger From it draws an effective and rewarding story, both for the intimate melodrama it summons and for its challenge to the codes of the noir novel. In 90 minutes, the brilliant storyline of Ben Hecht (Scarface, His Girl Friday) brews an incredible complexity of emotions. A dynamic of love / hate settles between the spectator and Mark Dixon, dependent on the pity felt towards him as repulsion in the face of his descent into hell. Him, the impure authority figure. The corrupt vigilante. The condemned man of fate. Its trajectory draws a sadistic irony and a moral upheaval from the end of the first act. He’s crossing the yellow line. Worse, he puts on make-up! A trait of dramatic inventiveness whose heart will be taken up a year later in A Place in the Sun. Only downside specific to certain scripts of this period: the agreed bittersweet conclusion, serving as a forced redemption. Where an operatic bloodbath would have been a good thing. We will wait for the sixties and the end of the Hays code for this madness.

On the staging side, Preminger digs with an economy of means the internal combat of the protagonists. Playing on the spatial positioning of the actors, the camera encloses Dixon between two silhouettes, shadows and lines, aided by front or side tracking shots accentuating, in a gesture, the ineluctable gallows. A coherent atmosphere even in the casting whose disastrous fate darkens the picture. See again Gene Tierney remains a source of joy (so much the actress embodies the height of the golden age of Hollywood) as a great sadness in the image of her tragic end of life. Her perfect face and her skin-deep sensitivity contrast with the gruff faces of Dana andrews and Karl Malden, responding intelligently to the chiaroscuro of the masterpiece Joseph LaShelle. The space of a scene on the telephone, this luminous composition flickers above Scalise’s skull, symbol of the celestial ax.

There’s no hazard. In any tragedy, the fate is already sealed before the first word, the first action, the first fault. Nothing remains. Apart from the shadows. It is to this rule that obeys MARK DIXON, DETECTIVE, glancing at the outcasts beyond the sidewalk. Those of the gutter. And their dramas under unlit streetlights.

Julien Homer

Original title : Where the Sidewalk Ends
Production : Otto Preminger
Scenario: Ben Hecht, Frank P. Rosenberg
Main actors : Dana Andrews, Bert Freed, Karl Malden
Release date : August 22, 1951 – June 16, 2021
Duration: 1h35min

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Written by superhero


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