The Guilty is a 1947 film noir directed by John Reinhardt, based on Cornell Woolrich‘s short story “Two Men in a Furnished Room”. The film was produced by oil millionaire Jack Wrather, the husband of lead actress Bonita Granville.
The film tells the story of two roommates, Mike Carr and Johnny Dixon. Johnny, who suffered a head injury during the war, meets a girl named Estelle Mitchell, and begins to date her. When he finds out she’s dating other men around town he dumps her and starts dating her sweet twin sister, Linda.
The story picks up when Mike goes into Tim McGinnis’ bar in New York to wait for Estelle, a woman he hasn’t met since her twin sister Linda was murdered six months earlier. He sits down and starts having flashbacks of the events around Linda’s death.
Johnny, who once served together with Mike in the Army and was his roommate at this point in time, had frequent nervous breakdowns. Johnny and Linda were a couple, and they were very much in love, but the twin sister Estelle wanted Johnny for herself. Estelle was determined to break up the happy couple, but in the meantime she was seeing Mike, who had a hard time resisting the vampy Estelle.
Mike only met Linda once, but in doing so realized that she was the sister he should have been putting his energy into catching, as she was the more innocently virtuous of the two twins.
But the twin sisters both wanted Johnny, and one night they got into a fight over him, after which Linda went to see Johnny on her own. Estelle tries to intercept and get to Johnny’s first. Mike sees Estelle arrive at Johnny’s before Linda arrives and stops her from coming in between the two lovers. However, when Mike returns home a couple of hours later, Estelle telephones Mike at her mother’s request to say that Linda never came home and has been reported missing.
Mike finds Johnny, drunk and distraught. He begs Mike to verify his alibi and that he heard Linda whistle for a taxi and saw her leave. When the police arrive to the scene they find a buckle from Linda’s trenchcoat on Johnny’s apartment floor, and after finding Linda’s body in the apartment building they take Johnny in for questioning.
Mike passes by McGinniss’ bar and finds another buckle outside the bathroom window. He goes to Johnny and mentions the possibility that Johnny’s memory might have failed him the night of the murder. While they are talking, the police arrive to arrest Johnny and he panics. Mike helps his friend by letting him escape out the back. In order to persuade Mike to give Johnny up, police detective Heller takes Mike to the morgue to show him Linda’s trashed body. Heller then recounts the horrible details of Linda’s death: After being choked, Linda was pushed, still alive, into the chute of the trash incinerator, and when he was unable to fit her in the tight space, the murderer shoved her in and broke her neck. The murderer then pulled her out and put her in a barrel on the roof.
Mike is disgusted by this, but still doesn’t believe his friend murdered Linda. He convinces Johnny to come out of hiding and clear his name. As they arrive home, Estelle is waiting for them with a man called Alex Tremholt, who has been renting a room at the Mitchells’ since the twins were young.
While they are there, Mike hears a woman whistle for a taxi, and realizes that must be the same woman they heard the night of the murder. When Tremholt sees Johnny, he insists on calling the police to arrest him, but Johnny escapes once more. Detective Heller arrives and suggests Tremholt of having a long-standing, unrequited love for Estelle and of killing the innocent Linda, whom he mistook for Estelle, the object of his desire. With the truth being revealed, Mike hurries off to tell Johnny he is in the clear and just manages to stop him from hanging himself.
Back in the present, Mike drags Estelle to his old apartment and insinuates that she committed the murder. When he enters the flat, however, Heller is waiting to arrest him. He reveals that Jake, the apartment janitor, recently found Linda’s neck scarf in the incinerator chute with Mike’s fingerprints all over it. It turns out that Mike killed Linda, believing she was Estelle. After telling Mike that Tremholt’s arrest was only a trick, Heller accompanies Mike down the stairs and past Estelle into the night.