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  • 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!
  • Max Thursday (Zachary Scott) is an alcoholic former cop living in a rundown hotel owned by his friend Smitty. He gets a visit from his ex-wife Georgia. Her brother Fred Mace and their son Jeff are missing. Apparently, Jeff has been kidnapped and Fred is somehow involved.

    This is a harsh pulpy noir. Zachary Scott is acting with all his chops. It has the brutality and hard-talk for the standard noir B-movie. The story isn't much but it functions well enough. I like many of the New York City exteriors. They're low rent and outside the normal glamor locations. I would like better for the action but it's still the old style. It's an old noir crime B-movie.
  • Zachary Scott is an ex-cop with a bad case of alcoholism. He's a house detective at a sleazy hotel, sleeping one off, when his ex-wife, Faye Emerson wakes him to tell him their son has been kidnapped, his ex-colleagues are sympathetic, but it's up to Scott to track the abductors through the Skid Row world and rescue his son.... and himself.

    This movie benefits from a strong, sympathetic story, and location shooting on the low-rent streets of downtown New York. There's a lot of talking, though, for such a usually visual genre, and the performances, while appropriate, are not terribly interesting. Scott and Miss Emerson start out with low-affect performances. Miss Emerson mumbles her lines in a tired and hopeless manner, and Scott spends the first half with subdued reactions. It's how a lot of depressives act, but it's not terribly interesting to watch.

    The cast is eked out with some good performers, Mary Boland plays the sort of down-on-heels ex-floozie that Esther Howard usually did for Paramount Noirs, Sam Levene is the police captain who can't help because of the rule book, and J. Edward Bromberg, Kay Medford, and Jed Prouty have memorable roles. The result is a film noir that is highly watchable.
  • blanche-28 September 2019
    From 1950, "Guilty Bystander" stars Zachary Scott, Faye Emerson, Kay Medford, Sam Levene, J. Edward Bromberg, and Mary Boland.

    Scott is Max Thursday, an ex-cop, now turned drunken house detective in a cheap hotel. One night, his ex-wife (Emerson) tells him their little son is missing, and she needs his help.

    This film is on a list I have of the top 250 noirs. I have no understanding of how it made the list. It was made for about fifty cents, the film quality is awful, and the characters talk endlessly. The plot is confusing. Other than that, it's not very good.

    It is a nice chance to see the lovely Faye Emerson, a prominent stage actress and wife of Elliott Roosevelt. The film also has a wonderful performance by Mary Boland, a silent film actress who appeared in many films including The Women in 1939. She plays the woman who runs the fleabag where Max works, or should I say, sleeps it off.

    This film meanders around all over the place, with no structure. The film quality is so bad that the last 30 minutes or so all I saw was a black screen and had to guess what was happening. The strong cast of pros is way too good for this.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    . . . its U. S. network television premier in these Troubled Times of 2021? Could it be due to the fact that GUILTY BYSTANDER eerily foreshadows America's current imminent dangers? Of course it could. Surely the murky affiliations and motivations of the mob gang that rubs out Crime Lord V. (and at least two of his henchmen) at 1:10:56 presage the bust the very morning of this national screening of an equally shadowy Rhode Island militia group on their way to invade Maine. Not to be undone, BYSTANDER's Crime Queen S., with all of her trick umbrella pistols and other concealed weapons, would fit right in with the malevolent mavens malingering within Today's perfidious Pachyderm Political Party. Both the current health and the viable future of ALL U. S. children belonging to normal, Patriotic Progressive families are being imperiled by pernicious Pachyderm Super Spreaders, as is the case with Little Jeff throughout BYSTANDER.
  • A 1950 film noir (presented last weekend on TCM's Noir Alley as a recent recipient of a film restoration spearheaded by none other than Drive's director Nicholas Winding Refn) about a kidnapping which spurs a drunken father (& former cop) to sober up & do the right thing. Starring Zachary Scott (an alcoholic in real life who specialized in playing silver screen cads) who's a former lawman who has fallen on hard times where his estranged wife, played by Faye Emerson, finds him working as a house detective in a fleabag hotel run by a souse of a woman of a certain age, played by Mary Boland (in her last performance). Promising to stay off the sauce long enough to track down his son, we enter a dark & deprived landscape of thieves & hustlers who pinball poor Scott from either end of town (in one sequence he's knocked out & wakes up in a holding cell to meet up w/his old police captain, played by Sam Levene) long enough to sort out the details of the kidnapping to reveal the true rationale for the crime (some stolen jewels). As shambling & pathetic a figure Scott essays, it's nothing compared to layabouts & lush-heads who populate this dark end of town. Other than an uncharacteristically happy ending where the parents are reunited w/child, the film's dark shadows earn their keep as the menacing harbingers of doom who seem to be as out to get poor Scott as the humans the city is populated with.
  • mossgrymk15 July 2021
    Great acting and a general air of grime (probably due to the location shooting on the streets and in the tenements and warehouses of Brooklyn long before it was gentrified) make up for a plot that no one can follow or care about...something about diamonds and double crosses...and an awful tacked on happy ending...in the burbs, no less! Standing out in the fine cast are Zachary Scott, in the lead, very convincingly playing a dipso ex cop who always seems on the edge of falling apart for good, the blacklisted Group Theatre alum J Edward Bromberg as a gangster with high blood pressure (a common occupational hazard, one would think) and most of all, in my opinion, Mary Boland, long after her glam 1930s days, playing the mother of all sleazy landladies. Give it a B.
  • 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.
  • Zachary Scott was such a fine actor, I have never understood why he is not usually considered among the greats.

    Mary Boland is another who has given great and memorable performances, but is not well known today.

    And they are just two of the superlative performers in this large and excellent cast, which is so well directed by Joseph Lerner.

    It is a dark film with the erstwhile hero usually losing his fights, between bouts of drinking -- and apparently not seeing the connection.

    And of course the alcohol washes away his personal relationships, too.

    It's probably hard to find, having been restored just two years ago at this writing, but it will no doubt come around again on TCM.
  • 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.
  • I think what I like about this film is while its structure certainly reeks of noir style, its execution strays from it. There's little sentimentality here; and even in "classic" noir, sentimentality is there if you look hard enough and know when to spot it. This film is like a 180 from that.

    For me, it's gritty and grinding. There's a certain, relentless quality to it. There's also a strong sense of dread and drudgery permeating almost every scene. On the outset, it offers virtually no hope for the damned.

    I personally found the acting top drawer. Zachary Scott totally surprised me with his consistency and devotion to the role; and Mary Boland delivers the goods wholeheartedly, reminding me of the caliber of Esther Howard's performance in Born To Kill. Fay Emerson's performance was solid but not exemplary.

    This is for die-hard noir fans only. A small majority will focus on its flaws; the rest of us will revel in its restored--literally--glory. Get over the ending upfront.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This looks like someone read about Film Noir, made some notes on the main elements, then schlocked a movie together. Lerner thought "We'll take my 'C-Man', darken it, cut the budget by 75%, replace action with dialogue ..." You could have shot it in 1 room: a desk in one corner, bed in another, jail in a third, bar in the 4th.

    • It's dark. In fact one of the key scenes - a few minutes long - is pitch black. You hear noise, dialogue, ... there's a shot ....


    • The sleazy girl tells you how sleazy she is; but she's got a good heart


    • The anti-hero hero is consumed by despair and alcohol. In the laughable opening scene with his ex-, he's too drunk to talk but sobers instantly when he learns his son is kidnapped


    • Throughout the story he yells and barks out his lines, as does the police captain


    The story wraps up like a play or murder-mystery: a character tells what/how/why it all happened. Some of this might have been shown to us along the way.

    Worth seeing FDR's ex- daughter-in-law and some other character actors in their early days. Scott overacts even when there's nothing going on. If you like Noir, check it out. But have a backup plan. Maybe go cook something while you listen to it.
  • Gloomy, moody and boozy are words all readily associated with film noir, but talky?....probably not. Therein lies this movie's dilemma; a surfeit of babble and gabble, but a woeful paucity of Sturm und Drang.

    Permanently inebriated hotel detective Max Thursday, (Zachary Scott) is rudely awoken from his torpor by estranged wife (Faye Emerson), who deserves credit for safely negotiating the obstacle course of discarded bottles en route to his bedside, where she greets him with the harrowing news of their infant son's disappearance.

    Sporting a hangover of colossal proportions, Scott's investigations lead him to the shifty Doctor Elder. Having spotted the name St. Paul on a note pad and concluding that it was unlikely to be preparation for a Bible study, his next recollection is awakening in police custody, with hangover mark two and the news that the dodgy doctor has been murdered. His former boss, police captain Sam Levene tries to call the tune (fortunately, he doesn't attempt to sing it!), but Scott insists on pursuing the case himself.

    His next move leads him to a smuggling syndicate, where the awfully nice man on the door directs him to hypochondriac big shot, Varkas- a man with his finger on the pulse....literally. Varkas offers him a lead to scarred bad boy Stitch Olivera, though upon seeing his mugshot and learning of his ruthless reputation, he would probably have preferred a lead to Lassie! This ought to have developed into a compelling mystery, but it simply sinks into a morass of largely listless, lackluster, verbose narrative.

    Scott spends too much time groaning, grouching and grumbling about everything from his traumatic, acrimonious exit from the police force to malfunctioning cigarette machines. Too much time is wasted showing him lighting up or reaching for a bottle. Yeah....we get the picture, Scott has a drink problem, particularly when he is unable to obtain a drink. Further time elapses with him repeating other people's lines. Example: EMERSON-Jeff is missing. SCOTT- Whaddya mean Jeff is missing? Finally in one bizarre segment Scott squanders an inordinate amount of time, telling anyone prepared to listen, that he has very little time!

    The performances are solid enough, but this low budget offering appears to be the result of much perspiration and very little inspiration. Long before the final reel, plagued by personal demons, wearied by the gravity of what lies ahead, Max Thursday must be yearning for Friday night.
  • 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.
  • user-3558318 July 2021
    This one checks most of the usual noir boxes and knowing it was shot on shoestring makes it even more impressive. The performances are well above average and the set pieces first rate. Many scenes shot gonzo style without permit in some of the seedier parts of the city. A must see for any fan of noir.
  • This is a film about alcoholism. And, Zachary Taylor, playing an alcoholic, ex-cop, who has abandoned his family, plays the role very well.

    Taylor's Max Thursday is told by his ex-wife that their son and her brother are missing. Thursday wants no help from the cops who he feels will take an apathetic approach to a case of a missing child and its uncle.

    Along the way, Thursday, formerly a top cop, battles the bottle more than the untrustworthy, criminally-inclined, underworld figures he meets. One such figure is fellow alcoholic Angel, played brilliantly by Kay Medford. Angel almost steals the film, but is unfortunately quickly tossed aside (literally and figuratively) by the filmmakers.

    Faye Emerson came out of retirement to act alongside Taylor. The two made the fabulous noir Danger Signal together five years earlier. She's excellent as the woman trying to find her son (and brother), and forced to rely on her disease-ridden ex-husband, who, by the way, she still loves. (She never declares it, but Emerson's acting, while nuanced, delivers the message.)

    Mary Boland deserves mention here, too. The flop house proprietor has given Thursday room and board to be her "house dick."

    Too bad, the film doesn't give much for the great Sam Levene to do. He played the police captain who's is noticeably absent after the first act. In fact, there's a couple of scenes where you expect his presence, but he's not there. I suspect the nickels and pennies budget created blemishes like this.

    TCM is screening a pristine restored version of the film. Cinematographer Russell Harlan, ASC (Gerald Hirschfeld is also credited) does a super job of lighting gritty, real locations including interiors of abandoned tenements and New York's subway system.

    Director Joseph Lerner botches the third act with help from screenwriter Don Ettlinger. But, I commend them for their success at guerrilla filmmaking as TCM's Eddie Muller points out the production could not afford any permits to shoot in the city's streets so the filmmakers did it without.

    Overall, the film's fails to meet expectations, but is a gem for genre fans.
  • Watchable microbudget noir shot largely on location in New York City and taking maximum advantage of subway stations, back alleys, and warehouse districts. The story is hard to follow, even though the big reveal - the identity of the mysterious St. Paul - is pretty easy to guess. Longtime character actor Jesse White makes a brief appearance as an unsuccessful pickup artist at a bar.

    I was surprised to see Dmitri Tiomkin credited with the score on such a small movie. I was even more surprised by how much I disliked the score. To me, it felt all wrong for noir - overblown and portentous even when nothing much is happening, excessively romantic and "pretty" at odd (almost random) moments. It's a rare case of film music that seems to have little to do with the action on the screen.

    Another reviewer wonders how this movie ended up on a list of the best 250 films noir. I know how. If you make a list of 250 (!) noirs, you'll be including basically all of them. Hollywood made a lot of noirs, but certainly not 250 that qualify as the "best" of anything.

    "Guilty Bystander" is neither the best nor the worst of the genre, but there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

    Incidentally, I'd like to think that when "Dragnet" was taking shape in his mind, Jack Webb saw this movie and thought, "Max Thursday, hmm? Maybe tweak it just a little ..."
  • I have never been a big Zachary Scott fan but I found his portrayal of an alcoholic ex-cop wonderfully entertaining. I also enjoyed the photography.
  • carlo-hagemann-129 March 2020
    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.