Guilty Bystander (1950)

Guilty Bystander (1950)
  • 523
  • Genre: Crime
  • Release year: 1950 ()
  • Running time: 91 min
  • Original Title: Guilty Bystander
  • Voted: 523

An alcoholic ex-cop, now the house detective at a scuzzy hotel in an even scuzzier part of town, stumbles through New York City's sleazy underworld searching for his kidnapped son.

1Zachary ScottMax Thursday
2Faye EmersonGeorgia
3Mary BolandSmitty
4Sam LeveneCapt. Tonetti
  • Alcoholic gumshoe scours New York's underbelly for son by 7

    This movie presents a curious case. It obviously was made on a rock-bottom budget (and looks it); its plot -- about a kidnapped boy -- is as hard to follow as The Big Sleep's, without any of that movie's big-studio glamour and high gloss; and prints of the movie in circulation, with poor sound and visuals, don't help its reputation either. Nonetheless, Guilty Bystander has a few very strong points in its favor. Chief among them is the old pro Mary Boland as Smitty, the proprietress of a fleabag hotel several notches below the threshold of respectability; she's a scheming old battleax who has more going on under her unkempt wisps of grey hair than she wants her cronies and go-fers to know. Next there's Zachary Scott, as Max Thursday, an ex-cop now sleeping off benders in the same fleabag, where he's kept on as the house dick; an underrated actor, he invests his loser's role with a painful intensity, stumbling and limping from skid row to waterfront to warehouse in pursuit for the son he hasn't seen in years. As his ex-wife and mother of the kidnapped boy, Faye Emerson (Mrs. Elliott Roosevelt to you), brings more than her fabled bone structure to the part. In fact, with better acting than you have any right to expect (plus an unrelentingly depressing milieu), Guilty Bystander is more than a curio; it's as if the cast knew what a lousy movie they signed up for and decided to go for broke anyway.

  • too talky but some good set pieces by 5

    This is beautifully photographed and features a score by Dimitri Tiomkin. Scott to me was always an uneven actor, there just doesn't seem to be much going on behind his eyes but he's pretty good in this film. The main character seems intent on remaining drunk and finding his son and for most of the movie he's more successful at finding drinks nearly everywhere he goes. There is a memorable chase/fight sequence in the New York subway, seemingly done for real on real locations, at another point there is a room full of corpses found post shoot out. And another scene on a darkened staircase that is well done on all levels.

    But what drags the movie down is the seemingly shapeless plot or lack of one, and long dialog scenes which I guess in some instances are supposed to be romantic but are just long and talky. Nevertheless there are memorable moments of noir photography and music. It may not ultimately work, but is not without scattered virtues of production and performance.

  • Noir ain't what it used to be. by 6

    I originally saw this movie on TV back in the fifties. I was in my teens and up until then my primary interest in films was for Disney and big budget Hollywood musicals, lots of flash and flair. After seeing Guilty Bystander I soon began to turn on to films like The Maltese Falcon, Woman in the Window and Angel Face. These films did not give me that happy feeling but rather kept me leaning forward in my chair. When they were over I didn't feel gratified and satisfied; I felt unsettled but mentally stimulated. Noir films are about people in trouble. The hero, or rather the protagonist, is deeply flawed. He is not a nice guy. However, he is kind of admirable. He overcomes his flaws and sets things to right. In Guilty Bystander the hero is an ex-cop named Max Thursday. He is an alcoholic who could not stand up to the demands of being a police officer and quit to become a private eye but couldn't handle that either. When his ex-wife informs him that their son has apparently been kidnapped, he is forced to come to grips with some very unpleasant truths about himself and people he thought he knew. The film checks a lot of the boxes to qualify as noir but it also has a number of failings. There are plots holes and much of the acting is clumsy. Scott as Thursday occasionally embarrasses himself but mostly projects well as a man trying hard to play a bad hand while not fully understanding the game. The film is based on the first of six novels featuring Thursday. The author was Wade Miller, a pseudonym for two guys who wrote a lot of noir crime fiction beside those six. They were probably as good as Raymond Chandler and his Phillip Marlowe character but never were as big a name, nor as well known today. I don't know if this film had anything to do with their lack of success in Hollywood or not but it's a pity that we don't have as much of Thursday as we do of Marlowe.

  • One of the scuzzier noir films. by 8

    Zachary Scott stars in "Guilty Bystander" as Max Thursday, an alcoholic ex-cop who's practically lived in a bottle since he was hounded off the force. He barely gets by, his marriage is gone and he's a crappy house detective in an even crappier motel.

    Thursday's ex-wife contacts him. It seems that their young son has been kidnapped and she wants Max to somehow find the boy. But Max is clearly an alcoholic and the only way he can function is to keep drinking....enough to keep him functioning but to enough to get him drunk. The trail leads to the seedy underworld and a lot of very dangerous characters.

    While I didn't adore this film (it had too many names and some backstory seemed to be missing), it is amazing when it comes to atmosphere. Plus, Scott is really good as this terrific anti-hero. Well worth seeing if you love film noir...and still worth seeing if you don't!

  • True Noir by 6

    Everything is in it: the dark shades, the twists in the plot and the troubles policeman and some ravishing ladies. Totally restored in 2019. A long story, but some gripping scenes in the end.

1Dimitri Tiomkincomposer
2Joseph Lernerdirector
3Rex Carltonproducer
4Don Ettlingerwriter
5H. William Millerwriter
6Robert Allison Wadewriter