The second film on tonight's alcohol-infused double bill at the Noir City Film Festival was GUILTY BYSTANDER.
Whereas APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW (1957) was an entertaining film, I found GUILTY BYSTANDER to be the real treat of the evening, with a superb performance by Zachary Scott as an alcoholic ex-cop in a desperate quest for his missing little boy.
We were very fortunate indeed to see the last surviving 35mm print of this film, shipped to California from the British Film Institute. It was a thing of beauty. The sad, jerky print I discovered on YouTube today cannot begin to compare with the quality of the print enjoyed by the audience at the Egyptian Theatre tonight.
As this 91-minute film begins, attractive Georgia (Faye Emerson) arrives at a fleabag hotel in search of the house detective, Max Thursday (Scott). She rouses him from a drunken sleep with the news that their son Jeff, who is just a toddler, is missing.
It seems that Georgia's brother Fred was minding the little boy and then the two of them disappeared. The brother is mixed up with some shady characters, including Dr. Elder (Jed Prouty), and Georgia fears the worst has happened. She hopes her ex, Max, can pull himself together long enough to find Jeff.
Max, a former cop, struggles to remain sober while on the hunt for his son; in fact, he falls off the wagon a couple of times, which makes his character all the more realistic. Scott successfully conveys both the depth of Max's terrible addiction and the capable and loving man who exists underneath the alcohol.
My favorite bit of dialogue might have been Scott's last line in the movie: "You're talking to a cop." The last scene of the film is surprisingly sunny, given the grim, gritty film which came before, but it feels like a reward for having made the long, hard journey with Max and Georgia, and some hope seems justified.
While under contract to Warner Bros., Scott and Emerson had previously costarred in the very entertaining DANGER SIGNAL (1945). The striking Emerson does a fine job as Georgia, and she and Scott share some nice scenes together, including a sequence where she bravely pulls a slug out of his arm.
Sam Levene, always a welcome sight in a film, plays Max's former boss on the force, and Mary Boland is rather remarkable as Smitty, Max's sleazy boss at the hotel. Boland's final scene, where she reveals even deeper layers of nastiness, is a real "wow." This was Boland's final film; she did some TV work in the '50s and passed on in 1965, at the age of 85.
The cast also includes J. Edward Bromberg, Kay Medford, and Dennis Patrick, who is known to those of us of a certain age as Vaughn Leland of DALLAS.
The movie was directed by Joseph Lerner, who had just a handful of random credits. The movie was filmed in New York, with black and white cinematography was by Russell Harlan and Gerald Hirschfeld. The screenplay was based on a novel by Wade Miller. It was a bit surprising to learn via the opening credits that the film's score was by Dimitri Tiomkin.
I felt quite fortunate to be able to see such an interesting night of rare films thanks to the Film Noir Foundation and their partners.