Somewhere in the Night (1946)

From the moment we see John Hodiak’s bandaged faced staring at the field hospital ceiling, we know that Somewhere in the Night is going to be a tale of film noir identity.

Combined with another staple of the style ― the male, recently returned from World War Two, and lost in the city ― Somewhere in the Night (1946) offers true noir chops: the disoriented soul, lost in a city of crime, seeking identity and of course redemption in the arms of a female.

One of several high period film noirs directed by Joseph L.Mankiewicz ― see also Escape (1948) ―House of Strangers (1949) ― No Way Out (1950) and 5 Fingers (1952) ― there is something contained in this mystery that is bursting to be free, and which almost comes loose at several points.

This makes Somewhere in the Night for the most gripping. John Hodiak is the ex-soldier bereft of identity, afloat in the city, seeking himself. He is something of a pinball, bashed from clue to clue as he tries to pick up the trail left by the mysterious Larry Cravat. This is name I read appears to be spoken some 85 times in this movie!

This winds up taking him into an abstruse riddle, focused on the retrieval of some Nazi loot, and through some great locations ― there’s The Cellar nightclub ― and every film noir needs a good nightclub at its heart ― an interesting cabal of thugs who live in an amusingly dressed fortune-telling parlour ― and an insane asylum, another staple haunt of the broken and de-militarised male.

Then there’s Bunker Hill and some neat skid-row style action down at the docks, and with a murky past, and a murky city, and a murky plot, you’ll find all of noir here well encapsulated. The world is quite unfathomable ― like the plot, unfortunately ― and events are random and disordered, more faithful to the notion of fate beloved of the style.

If Somewhere in the Night begs comparison with any other film noir, it is probably The Crooked Way (1949), which sees John Payne similarly adrift, and left to pick up the pieces of his life before the war. It was always one of the strengths of the style, that film noir picked up on this, and brought home in a psychological manner, just what a bubbling issue this was. There was no diagnosis of PTSD in 1946,

There is a kind of mad confusion to the action, as long as we can buy into the idea that George Taylor, the hero can remember nothing of himself. The big reveal, when it comes, may have been a surprise in 1946, but with yards of training in more sophisticated mystery-movie watching, an audience of today will probably see the twist long before the hapless characters do.

Sadly John Hodiak died far too young to make a significant impact on Hollywood history, which leaves Richard Conte as the keeper; Nancy Guild, who plays the lead and love interest made only a handful of films, around eight in total; leaving a further odd flavour to a film that ticks the boxes, promises a fortune and largely delivers, at least on its promise of mystery and confusion.

Mystery and Confusion - a common theme for those returning damaged by World War 2. The influence of the war of 1939 - 1945 is write huge across all film noir.

Somewhere in the Night is a more than reasonable title for a film noir. That appears to be where everything is, the hoods and the wicked dames, the bars and the criminals, and as a clear contrast to those who fought in the war, the criminal classes seem to have taken over while the good guys were off fighting for the end of fascism. 

Although Somewhere in the Night will never appear on any list of classic film noir, it contains multitudes for the style-lover. Consdier the basic plot: A solider returns from WWII with amnesia. Back home in Los Angeles, while trying to track down his old identity, he stumbles onto a 3-year old murder case and a hunt for a missing $2 million, which turns out to be Nazi loot as well!

Of all the things you could add to this - and that includes excellent settings on Bunker Hill - we even have the villains hiding out in a kind of occult shop, where the crystal balls and other seedy trappings add madly to the fun.

Nancy Guild as Christy Smith: "In about two minutes, a bouncer is coming back in here with no sense of humor. He's a foot bigger than you in all directions."

Richard Conte - you really believe he is the good guy? Well, maybe this time, but maybe not.

Great line up of momentarily captured hoods in a suspicious Bunker Hill den.

There is of course a tongue-in-cheek nonchalance to the script of Somewhere in the Night, courtesy of Mankiewicz, and some bad jokes about Hitler too, but we can take that and they are worth the admission price, if only to plant it fairly in 1946 where it of course belongs.

And fans of the style will not be disappointed with the copious noir visuals which enhance the paranoia and suspicion ― the low-lighted corridors and shadowy stairs of the sanatorium, and the dark corners down by the lapping silver waters at the dock, with its solitary seedy Christian mission at the front.

For the collectors, and those who wish to dig deeper into the noir canon, Somewhere in the Night is a must. With a relatively low budget, and relatively budget actors too, Mankiewicz made a nifty and fun film noir which doesn’t really let up on the fun and intrigue.

It’s gloomy, it’s alienating and of course it kicks off as noir kicks off best ― with a voiceover which carries us far into the story, intimate, confused and lost in wicked world of emotional and violent situations.

Finally, note that John Hodiak continues to do the vacant wondering look . . . long after the amnesia plot has been dropped! Another reason to revel in the darkness and enjoy this minor thrill-ride, for all it is worth.


George W. Taylor: [after not responding to Phyllis' long kiss] Did you have fun?

Phyllis: I've had more fun drinking a Bromo-Seltzer.


George W. Taylor: What about that beating I took?

Anzelmo aka Dr. Oracle: I wish with all my heart that I could take it back.

George W. Taylor: Another figure of speech. You haven't got a heart.

Anzelmo aka Dr. Oracle: True; but I have a brain and it was stupid of me. I apologize.


Anzelmo aka Dr. Oracle: Then you have my word: he will not molest you. A mere figure of speech; my word is worthless.


Phyllis: Well, there has been this shortage of men.


Christy Smith: Like always, my two feet planted firmly in the air.

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