Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Guilty Bystander (1950) at the Noir City Film Festival

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.


Blogger Vienna said...

Gosh, this sounds good. I like Faye Emerson and enjoyed her first film with Zachary Scott that you mentioned.

6:23 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I was at this same screening and watched this movie with Laura. I had never heard of it, and know nothing of this director but came away impressed with his work on it.
It's a very distinctive film, grim until the startlingly sunny final moments, but with a lot of layers of humanity that owe especially to Zachary Scott who, given the chance as he is here, can be a mesmerizing actor, drawing you to his character without doing anything to sentimentalize him. Like Laura, I was surprised they got Dimitri Tiomkin for this, and it was fortuitous; he responded with a beautiful score, perhaps one of his best. Seeing the last surviving 35 print of an almost unknown gem like this one is something very special.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, if you like the actors I bet you'd enjoy it! :)

Best wishes,

10:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, it was great to see you Sunday evening and have the chance to enjoy a couple interesting movies with you! It was indeed a special experience -- this is a film I won't be forgetting any time soon. I wish more people would have the chance to experience it in a fine-looking print as we did.

Best wishes,

10:56 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Yes, it was great to see you too and I was glad we made it to this show of two movies so rarely seen.

GUILTY BYSTANDER seems to be staying in my mind too and can't stop thinking about it. Here's where I am right now about it.

A lot of Film Noir kind of romanticizes misery and despair--that's almost what it seems to be about at times. Sometimes I wonder why we, as supposedly mature people, enjoy this so much and are so enticed by it.

This left almost all the elements but took the romanticizing away. That impressed me. It made it not as snappy but in its way no less absorbing. An honest movie.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Boy, this sounds good. I envy you for having seen it.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Mark McGlone said...

The novel on which Guilty Bystander is based is excellent. It's the first of a series of six Max Thursday novels and they're all quite good. The writers (Wade Miller was a pseudonym for Robert Wade and Bill Miller) also wrote Badge of Evil, which Orson Welles filmed as Touch of Evil.

I've never seen the movie, but if I ever get the chance I will. Most fans of the books who have seen it think it's not very good. I'm glad to see a differing opinion.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hope you can see it, Kevin!

Mark, thanks so much for adding your comments. So interesting there were more Max Thursday stories!

My dad just filled me in today on some background on "Wade Miller"; was very interested to learn it was two men. My dad was actually at a 1988 banquet in San Diego where Bob Wade was honored by the Private Eye Writers Association. He sent me this Mystery File link with more Wade Miller info. Fun stuff!

Best wishes,

8:23 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I had to settle for the poor You Tube copy. Can't say I enjoyed it as much though Zachary Scott is always good and what a pleasure to see Mary Boland in such an unusual role. She's terrific. Pity she didnt do more drama.
I was disappointed Faye Emerson had so little to do. Terrible waste.
But oh to have seen it in 35mm!

5:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad you were able to check it out, Vienna, even though it was a less than ideal format. Scott and Boland were excellent. I liked Faye Emerson who could easily played the role in a more shrewish way, but I agree it would have been nice if she had more screen time. Thanks for sharing your impressions!

Best wishes,

11:47 PM  

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