Where the Sidewalk Never Ends

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My friend Travis had been to New York long before me. I asked about the worryingly high curbs. I knew the average curb in America wasn’t that high, from movies I’d seen. But I knew that Gene Kelly had jumped on an off a curb in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that looked like a White Cliff of Dover transported to the MGM lot, and Jimmy Cagney staggered along in the shadow of a curb he can barely see over.

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No, there are no curbs like that, I was told.

So how could they get away with showing the American public things the public knew didn’t exist? And why try? Either there were, in those long-ago days, mountainous, leg-breaking curbs, maybe to keep the Indians out (most Indians are not real tall), or it was some kind of deliberate artistic artifice, along the lines of “Everything on the screen should be bigger than in real life?”

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8 Responses to “Where the Sidewalk Never Ends”

  1. Travis, via Facebook, directs me to Scorsese on Scorsese: “In the city streets I’d seen in Warner Bros and MGM musicals, New York kerbs were always shown as very high and very clean. When I was a child, I realized this wasn’t right, but was part of a whole mythical city that they had created.”

  2. You are forgetting how short Gene Kelly and Jimmy Cagney were.

  3. Everett Jones Says:

    Manhattan famously has no (or almost no) alleyways, and though not many examples come to mind, I’m fairly certain Hollywood has played fast and loose with this too.

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I seem to remember, ends in a very spacious and rainy NYC alley.

  4. Cagney and Kelly were short, yes — Kelly HATED Esther Williams for dwarfing him — but not so tiny as to vanish into a gutter.

    The streets in Singin’ in the Rain are LA streets… the presence of rain is already somewhat fantasical…

  5. bensondonald Says:

    On the old Carol Burnett show, they had Dick Van Dyke doing the song “Singin’ in the Rain”. When he stepped off the curb he was nearly waist-deep in water and continued the number thus.

  6. GSPegger Says:

    I must admit that I have spent far too much time contemplating this post, but I am watching Harold Lloyd’s Sailor-Made Man (1921) right now and as the new Navy recruits are marching down what is clearly a real Los Angeles area boulevard, the curbs are pretty high (about a foot I would say, if not more). Perhaps it is because they were expecting to pave the streets with gold at a later date.

  7. That must be it!

    Although a half-foot thickness of gold seems almost… extravagant.

  8. GSPegger Says:

    By the way, A Sailor-Made Man was very amusing. Harold up to his usual athletic comedy. I love his character introduction. A gag that could only be done in film.

    The film also has the original intertitles in all their glory. It adds a warmth to silent films which can be lost when they use new intertitles with no artistic flare.

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