Edge Of The City

EDGE OF THE CITY earned critical praise but only mild attendance in 1957, #108 in the box office stats. What reviewers said or patrons missed is less notable than what the over-emphatic but sincere drama did achieve other than applause and dollars. This marked the feature film debut for socially conscious stage & television director Martin Ritt, who’d been blacklisted for six years. It gave shared star billing to rising lights John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier, a first for each actor. The plotline broke fresh ground by depicting interracial friendship on a more or less equal basis. Robert Alan Aurthur adapted the script off his TV production A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, done two years earlier, which had also featured Poitier. *

Nervous drifter ‘Axel Nordmann’ (Cassavetes) is hired as a longshoreman on the Manhattan waterfront. He gets the job because he has some connection to loudmouth ‘Charlie Malick’ (Jack Warden), honcho of a work gang. Axel quickly hits it off with outgoing ‘Tommy Tyler’ (Poitier), another work gang leader. Tommy introduces the insecure new fellow to his family.  Axel becomes interested in their friend ‘Ellen’ (Kathleen Maguire). But he’s plagued by past events, and the trouble they pose is brought to the crisis point when the bullying Malick comes after him at work. Tommy intervenes.

Cassavetes rides a bit hard on the Brando/Dean self-agony train (he was a much better actor later in his career) and Poitier is tasked to be so selfless and noble that it feels forced (likely due more to the material and direction than the actor). Warden nails the nastiness with ease, Maguire leaves little impression. The best acting comes from supporting actress Ruby Dee, whose final outburst, while not the most jarring piece in the film, is the most dramatically potent. The ‘big’ scene is a deadly hook-fight between Poitier and Warden.

Made for $493,000, Cogerson places its gross at $2,200,000. With Val Avery, Robert F. Simon, Ruth White and John Kellogg. Leonard Rosenman gave it a clamorous score. 85 minutes.

 * Poitier scored successively in 1957, co-starring in the Kenya-set Mau Mau drama Something of Value, the Civil War melodrama Band of Angels, and another Africa-set drama, the little-seen The Mark Of The Hawk, shot in Nigeria with Eartha Kitt. Poitier, Cassavetes and Dee reteamed the following year for the featherweight Caribbean idyll Virgin Island. Ritt immediately followed up in ’57 with No Down Payment, an interesting look at the new suburban lifestyle, and the  rock-solid Warden scored choice parts in two winners that year, again playing disagreeable types, in 12 Angry Men and The Bachelor Party.

Ruby Dee, 1922-2014


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