Noir Side Street — “The Guilty”

Incoming Day. Photo by Emanuele Toscano.

Today’s film is 1947’s “The Guilty” from Monogram Pictures, starring Bonita Granville (Estelle and Linda Mitchell), Don Castle (Mike Carr), Regis Toomey (Detective Heller), John Litel (Alex Tremholt), Wally Cassell (Johnny Dixon), Thomas E. Jackson (Tim McGinnis), and Netta Parker (Mrs. Mitchell). Directed by John Reinhardt. Produced by Jack Wrather. Cinematography by Henry Sharp. Screenplay written by Robert Presnell, Sr., from the short story “Two Men in a Furnished Room,” by Cornell Woolrich.

The film is told in flashback. It opens with a man (Mike Carr) walking down the rain-drenched streets and sidewalks of the grimy part of town. He enters McGinnis’ bar, which is across the street from the room he once shared with his old army buddy, Johnny Dixon. It’s six months after the murder of Linda, twin sister of the woman he’s come to meet. We get a lot of the backstory in the scene as he talks with Tim, the bartender, while he waits for Estelle to show up. At this point, we enter the flashback of the events leading up to Linda’s death.

As is typical with noir films when we have characters that are identical twins, one sister is good, the other bad. Linda happens to be (or have been) the good one. It turns out Linda had been dating Johnny Dixon, Mike’s roommate, but now he’s seeing Estelle. (You know this is going to get complicated with who’s dating whom, and who wants whom.)

Mike comes home to find his roommate Johnny Dixon in the throes of one of the “spells” he suffers from since he was wounded in WWII. As he tends to Johnny, Linda arrives, looking for her sister. Mike lies to her and tells her he’s never met Estelle (even though the two are currently seeing each other). Linda heads home, where she finds a bracelet Estelle has left lying on the dressing table, a gift from Johnny. (She left it there to try to get her sister out of the picture with Johnny.) The four have been playing romantic musical chairs — Johnny used to see Linda but took up with Estelle after he and Linda had a fight. So Johnny switches to Estelle in order to make Linda jealous, but Estelle (being a bad girl) sees pretty much every guy in town (including Mike), which leads to their eventual breakup, which comes right after he gives her the bracelet.

Confused yet? You’re supposed to be.

Estelle meets Mike at the bar and he sees the bracelet Johnny had given her. It makes him jealous, because he knows it came from his roommate. She says she’s going up later to see Johnny to break up with him so he can be free to date Linda, but Mike demands she give him the bracelet and he’ll take care of giving it back to Johnny. While Johnny and Linda are together in his apartment, Estelle and Mike are still out on the town. Estelle calls Johnny two hours later, telling him she’ll meet him in half an hour. As they speak, Linda’s crying on Johnny’s bed. Johnny agrees to meet Estelle in an hour; meanwhile Estelle tells Mike she has to go home and she doesn’t need him to escort her, it’s only a couple blocks away. But Mike’s jealous, knowing where she’s really headed.

When Mike gets back to the apartment after having been gone a total of three hours, he finds Johnny in an agitated state. Mike tosses the bracelet to Johnny telling him “Maybe you can get your money back on it.” Johnny leaves and while he’s out, Mike gets a call from a very worried Mrs. Mitchell, looking for Linda, who’s now missing. Estelle gets on the phone and threatens if Linda doesn’t show up in fifteen minutes, they’re going to call the cops.

When Johnny returns, he admits Linda had been in their apartment earlier, but they had an argument about how he’d been seeing Estelle, and she tore out of there. Johnny says he believes she got into a cab that she’d hailed by whistling for it, so he didn’t feel like he needed to see her all the way home. Johnny spends the rest of evening drinking at the bar. A cop shows up asking about Linda and whether the two had seen her that night. Johnny admits he had but hadn’t seen her home.

The next day when Mike gets home, Detective Heller is waiting for the fellas. Mike tells the detective what he knew about Linda. Once he leaves, he runs into Johnny, who was supposed to go to the cops on his own but hadn’t. The two visit the Mitchell apartment. but a distraught Mrs. Mitchell tells them to get out. Estelle makes a date to see Mike later and the two leave.

While Mike is saying his goodbyes to Estelle outside her apartment, the cops show up to ask Mrs. Mitchell to identify Linda’s clothes. Yes, her body’s finally turned up.

The rest of the film unfolds with everyone trying to figure out who the murderer is. Of course, Johnny’s the most likely suspect, and with his spells, it’s possible. But is he? Or did someone else have a motive to do her in? Or did someone kill her thinking she was Estelle?

The plot got garbled with who was currently dating whom versus who had been dating whom, and when all this changed. I watched it twice, paying particular attention and feel like the story kept changing from one character’s telling to the next. So… yeah.

It hits the right noir notes, but this one just didn’t work for me, with the plot holes, garbled dating timeline, and the fact that the resolution just doesn’t make sense. So I give it two-and-a-half unfiltered cigarette puffs; it’s okay entertainment to kill an hour-and-a-half, but don’t expect it to hang together logically.

Next week’s film is “Thieves’ Highway,” another film recently restored by Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation.

As always, this is an open thread, so feel free to discuss whatever you like.

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