(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“Two guys, sharing an apartment, meet twin girls. One’s sweet, the other a major piece of bad news. The nice one is murdered, and her boyfriend is accused on the crime. The wrong man-wrong victim plot strikes again.”
Though that synopsis kinda/sorta hints at who the guilty culprit may or may not be – along with a tease as to what may or may not have truly gone down in this set of circumstances – I promise not to spoil the brew, one of my longtime commitments to saving the best for you folks to discover when you take in a particular viewing. Though The Guilty fits the textbook definition for what one expects from a vintage crime thriller, I thought it fell just a bit short of even a passably memorable noir.
Why do I think it fell short?
Well, that’s a complicated answer, one that strays very close to spoiling perhaps what makes The Guilty a unique viewing experience. It isn’t all that uncommon for one of the characters to provide a background narration to a noir tale; that technique has long fueled the best crime procedurals if not all of the standard private eye stories for a generation of black-and-white pictures. The notable difference between those films and The Guilty lies in the fact that this time – ahem – we may or may not be benefitting from how the narrator spins the yarn, and I’ve seen vastly greater balanced handled far better in later outings as well as other flicks of the noir era. (Again, I’m trying to avoid divulging anything that strays a bit too close to spoilers, and this one is a hard sell.)
Those shortcomings aside, much of The Guilty takes places in a handful of sets, all of which lack any real definition or distinction to make them all that remarkable. Clearly, the characters were meant to remain central to this particular mystery, so I can understand (to a degree) why so little effort and expense may have been put forth to give these locales a life of their own. Still, I don’t think any producer or director – especially from the bygone era of film – did themselves any favors by shooting films on such lackluster settings. The only scenes that breath a bit of life are the exteriors, but they’re very slim in this tidy 71-minute thriller so take heart when you can.
Performances are good, nothing all that chilling or thrilling. Bonita Granville plays the twin sisters, and she manages to give each lovely lady a bit of character all of her own. Don Castle fills the leading man shoes, and he chews a bit of scenery as he relishes both the ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ elements that make up noir’s leading men. Wally Cassell snivels a little too much as the ‘man on the run’ who seems to be concealing more than an innocent man would. And John Litel gives a curious performance as a live-in family friend who wants a bit more than the usual room and board from the lovely sisters.
Again, The Guilty may not have quite rung the right notes with me, but I can still appreciate where it achieved something special. Perhaps a tighter script – one that didn’t rely on the bookended narration so much – would’ve felt more organic and not so much like a screenwriter’s creations … but – at the end of the day – those victims ain’t gonna kill themselves, you know what I mean?
The Guilty (1947) was produced by Monogram Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable Flicker Alley. As for the technical specifications? The packaging materials state that the film was restored from a 35mm nitrate composite fine-grain master; and – yes – this looks and sounds exceptionally well given the flick’s age. As for the special features? The Guity is only one film in a two-film package from Flicker Alley, so some of the listed items below might pertain more to the second picture as opposed to this one, but here’s what this dual-disc set includes:
- Introduction to The Guilty and High Tide by noted author and historian Eddie Muller.
- A documentary exploring the works of producer/director Jack Wrather.
- A documentary exploring the life and works of author Cornell Woolrich.
- A documentary exploring the life and works of director, writer, and producer John Reinhardt.
- A featurette exploring the career of actor Lee Tracy.
- A commentary track for The Guilty conducted by author and scholar Jake Hinkson.
- A commentary track for High Tide conducted by film historian Alan K. Rode.
- Lastly, a collector’s booklet with poster, artwork, stills, and a related essay.
Mildly recommended. As noirs go, this certainly doesn’t rank up there with any of my personal favorites, but I’d agree that director Reinhardt and the cast and crew accomplish a good look to what clearly had to be a fairly low-budget production. My central issue with all of it relates to the how the story unfolds in the narrative, all of it requiring a kinda/sorta gotcha finale that doesn’t quite add up logically except for the fact that we were all misled … but such a thing happens all too often in the dark alleys lining cinema’s underbelly, don’t they?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Flicker Alley provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of The Guilty by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.