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The Guilty

Posted by martinteller on November 5, 2012

“I’m fighting for my life now, Mike.  Don’t come close to me.  If it’s gonna be you or me, it’s gonna be you.”

Decent guy Mike Carr (Don Castle) shares an apartment with Johnny Dixon (Wally Cassell), his former commanding officer… a guy he doesn’t really like, but he puts up with him out of a sense of obligation.  Dixon suffered a head injury and is prone to anxiety-ridden “spells”.  Dixon’s girlfriend is goodtime gal Estelle (Bonita Granville) but he dumps her for her nicer twin sister Linda (also Granville), so Mike starts seeing Estelle.  Then one night Linda goes missing.  Dixon’s behavior is suspicious and he seems to be spinning a web of lies.  It’s up to Mike and detective Heller (Regis Toomey) to get to the bottom of things.

We’re dealing with Woolrich again, so we have a very twisty and far-fetched plot to contend with.  But in the most satisfying way.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it makes you want to go back to see how it happened.  A script that seems too simple and tired at first turns out to be quite clever.

Granville — best known for her role as Nancy Drew — gets top billing.  The twin angle isn’t exploited nearly as much as in The Dark Mirror, and the two Granvilles share the screen for only a minute (“Linda” doesn’t last long anyway).  She brings a fine ambiguity to Estelle… a bad girl, but she never tips if she’s bad enough to be the guilty party.  She keeps you guessing.  Toomey was born to play a cop — and he often did — he’s just so perfect for it, with his world-weary sarcasm.  Cassell’s twitchy, slimy performance is pretty interesting, too.  Really it’s Castle who sticks out as the weak link, but maybe that’s because the bulk of the film is on his shoulders.  He tells most of the story in flashback, and appears in almost every scene, either in person or in voiceover.  The relative blandness of his character may be a deliberate choice, though.

Except for a couple of key moments, the film isn’t very stylized, but the cheapness of it lends to its gloomy charm.  There’s a fog of despair over everything, not an emotional heaviness but more an air of depression, a feeling that these characters have in some way all given up.

It doesn’t seem like much at first, but after a while you realize how invested you are in the story.  It’s a film that took me by surprise, and after seeing so many noirs, that’s a rare thing.  It could use more style, and maybe some more compelling actors, but it satisfies.  Rating: Very Good (84)



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