Side Street: Anthony Mann’s Noir Thriller, Starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell

Though expertly directed by Anthony Mann, Side Street is nonetheless a B noir film that benefits from its black-and white, on location shooting in New York City and the acting of its two leads.

Farley Granger, then at the height of his career, and Cathy O’Donnell, teamed for the second time, after their appearance in the superior cult film, They Live By Night.

Granger plays Joe Norson, a young man living with his in-laws in Manhattan, after losing his gas station, now working as a mail carrier.

Concerned about his pregnant wife, Ellen (O’Donnell), Joe plans to steal money from the offices of Victor Backett (Edmund Ryan), a corrupt attorney. Once the crime is done, he discovers that he had actually stolen not $200 but $30,000 from

Backett has framed wealthy broker-patsy Emil Lorrison (Paul Harvey) in a sex scandal, then extorted the money with the help of Lucille Colner (Adele Jergens) and ex-con accomplice George Garsell (James Craig).

In panic, Joe explains that his new-found wealth to Ellen as a result from another job. He then disguises the money in a package, and leaves it with bartender Nick Drumman (Ed Max).

When Lucille’s body is found strangled in the East River, NYPD Capt. Walter Anderson (Paul Kelly) investigates the case, and Lorrison and Backett are interviewed; their names appeared in her diary.

After his child birth, Joe determines to return his ill-gotten gain, but Backett suspects a trap and refuses the offer. Backett instead sends Garsell and a cab driver accomplice to grab Joe and recover the cash.

Joe escapes after they discover that Drumman has substituted a nightgown in the package and gone into hiding with the money.  He confesses the original theft to Ellen, who urges him to turn himself in, but he finds himself a suspect in Drumman’s murder. Meanwhile, Capt. Anderson pursues both men as suspects, Garsell for Lucille and Joe for Drumman.

Joe locates Garsell’s girlfriend, singer Harriette Sinton (Jean Hagen), but she betrays him. Garsell plans to murder Joe and strangles Harriette to eliminate her as a witness.

Capt. Anderson is hot on their heels and a chase ensues through the streets of New York. Garsell kills his partner and forces Joe to drive, but Joe deliberately crashes the taxi to end the nightmare. Trying to run out, Garsell is killed by the police, and Joe is taken into the hospital, surviving the accident and reuniting.

Reaffirming the happy ending, a narrator informs at the end: “This is the story of Joe Norton, no villain, no hero, just like the rest of us. He’s gonna be all-right.”

At the time, the film was treated as a routine procedural crime thriller, and also made little impression at the domestic box-office.

Mann’s direction, as expected is reliably taut, and the cinema verite visual style lends the film, which was shot in and around the Third Avenue El area, brings authenticity. Among the striking sequences is a thrilling chase scene early Sunday morning in the empty streets of Manhattan.

In recent years, however, Side Street has gained new following (and elevated status) due to frequent showings in various noir series and on TCM (where I revisited the picture on July 7, 2017).

Cast

  • Farley Granger as Joe Norson
  • Cathy O’Donnell as Ellen Norson
  • James Craig as George Garsell
  • Paul Kelly as Capt. Walter Anderson
  • Jean Hagen as Harriette Sinton
  • Paul Harvey as Emil Lorrison
  • Edmon Ryan as Victor Backett
  • Charles McGraw as Det. Stan Simon
  • Edwin Max as Nick Drumman
  • Adele Jergens as Lucille Colner
  • Harry Bellaver as Larry Giff, cabdriver
  • Whit Bissell as Harold Simpson, chief teller
  • John Gallaudet as Gus Heldon, bar owner
  • Esther Somers as Mrs. Malby, Ellen’s mother
  • Harry Antrim as Mr. Malby, Ellen’s father

 

 

 

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