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New York City postal worker Joe Norson (Farley Granger) wants nothing more than to provide a comfortable life for himself and his wife (Cathy O'Donnell), who is pregnant. Out of frustration he steals $30,000 from the shady lawyer Victor Backett (Edmon Ryan). However, the theft has higher stakes than Joe could have imagined: Backett extorted the money from Emil Lorrison (Paul Harvey), an innocent man whom he framed in a sex scandal and later murdered. Joe, trying to hide the money from his wife, gives it to his friend Nick Drumman (Edwin Max) for safekeeping. When Joe attempts to retrieve the money and return it to Backett, he finds himself caught up in a web of murder and his own life is in danger.
Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg (1889-1983) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and emigrated to the U.S. as a child. He worked as a newspaper boy in Boston, later becoming a news photographer and newsreel cameraman. Starting in 1916, he worked with Fox in New York, following the mass exodus to Hollywood in 1926. In collaboration with George Folsey (who received sole credit), he shot one of the key films of the early sound era: Rouben Mamoulian's musical Applause (1929). In 1935 he began a long and prodigious career at MGM, where he was associated with some of its most prestigious productions, among them: The Women (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Gaslight (1944) Brigadoon (1954) - Ruttenberg was an early champion of CinemaScope - and Butterfield 8 (1960). His Academy Awards include The Great Waltz (1938), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) and Gigi (1958). Ruttenberg's cinematography for Side Street (1950), which has often been described as "semi-documentary," captures the New York locations with striking realism for the era. At the same time, the film's lighting scheme, as critic Jeanine Basinger has noted, becomes increasingly expressionistic, reflecting the protagonist's descent into a world of moral darkness.
Director Anthony Mann (1907-1967) is best known for his Westerns of the 1950s and '60s, but he also made several remarkable films noir in the late 1940s - most notably T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), both photographed by the great John Alton. As with his first MGM feature, Border Incident (1949), Mann proves himself to be a master of portraying the physical environment as a staging ground for both the internal and external conflicts which unfold. Here his direction effectively suggests the characters' sense of entrapment within the urban landscape, often via striking aerial shots. Incidentally, according to an article in the New York Times, the climactic stunt in which a taxicab was supposed to flip on its side in front of the J. P. Morgan Building had to be repeated several times, since the taxicab kept failing to flip properly.
Although Side Street had a mixed critical reception at the time of its release, its stock has since risen both within Anthony Mann's filmography and as a representative film noir of the era. Variety rightly praised Ruttenberg's cinematography and the work of the supporting actors, in particular Jean Hagen as an alcoholic torch singer. The redoubtable Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote of the film: "It can only be fully recommended to those who have a deep and morbid interest in crime." Perhaps Mr. Crowther didn't approve, but today's viewers almost certainly will.
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Director: Anthony Mann
Screenwriter: Sydney Boehm
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Music: Lennie Hayton. Music and lyrics of song "Easy to Love" by Cole Porter
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Daniel B. Cathcart
Cast: Farley Granger (Joe Norson), Cathy O'Donnell (Ellen Norson), James Craig (Georgie Garsell), Paul Kelly (Captain Walter Anderson), Jean Hagen (Harriet Sinton), Paul Harvey (Emil Lorrison), Edmon Ryan (Victor Backett), Charles McGraw (Stanley Simon), Edwin Max (Nick Drumman).
by James Steffen