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.




Somewhere in the Night (1946)





In the shadowy aftermath of World War II, the Red Scare cast a long pall over Hollywood, ensnaring many in its web of suspicion and censorship. Among the casualties was a remarkable film noir from 20th Century Fox, which, due to the blacklist, vanished from television screens and public consciousness for years. 

Today, it remains an elusive treasure, more familiar to genre aficionados than the general movie-going public.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Somewhere in the Night stands as a paragon of film noir, co-written with Howard Dimsdale and featuring an adaptation by Lee Strasberg. The film constructs a narrative edifice as sturdy as bricks, compelling the audience to invest emotionally in the mystery of George Taylor’s identity. Unlike Remember Last Night?, where the suspense is undercut by humor, Somewhere in the Night ensnares the viewer in the psychological labyrinth of a protagonist with amnesia.

The allure of the amnesia subgenre lies in the tantalizing possibility that the truth resides within the protagonist’s own unreachable memories. As George Taylor, portrayed by John Hodiak, navigates a world rife with cynicism and peril, the audience is drawn into his internal struggle. The film toys with the notion of the unreliable narrator, blurring the lines between hero and villain. Hodiak’s performance captures the essence of a man lost in the moral ambiguity of his existence, his fear and anxiety palpable.

Somewhere in the Night delves into the murky depths of the human psyche, exploring themes of memory and self-deception. It suggests that innocence may be a mere construct of the mind, a fleeting state that can be as easily forgotten as it is assumed. The film’s exploration of memory, or the lack thereof, serves as a clever narrative device, positing that one’s own mind can be the most dubious witness to one’s actions.

In a mere 200 words, Somewhere in the Night can be described as a cinematic exploration of identity and morality, where the protagonist’s quest for self-discovery leads to a confrontation with the darkest corners of his psyche. 

The film’s strength lies in its ability to immerse the audience in the protagonist’s dilemma, making them question the very nature of innocence and guilt. Mankiewicz’s direction and the nuanced screenplay create a world where the truth is as elusive as memory itself, and where the journey to uncover it is as compelling as the answers sought.

Somewhere in the Night is a film that encapsulates all the quintessential elements of noir. It boasts a cast of characters straight out of a hardboiled detective novel: a private investigator with a murky past, a compassionate police officer, a nightclub singer with a voice as smoky as her surroundings, a corpulent villain devoid of morals, his savage sidekick, a woman tormented by her own psyche, and a hero grappling with amnesia. 

The plot thickens within the walls of a sanatorium, where a deranged patient clutches the key to a bewildering mystery.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s journey as a filmmaker is a testament to his versatility and mastery of the craft. From the heights of creating iconic films like All About Eve and Cleopatra, to the more intimate yet equally revered works such as A Letter to Three Wives and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Mankiewicz demonstrated a range that few directors achieve. His foray into the noir genre with Somewhere in the Night showcases his ability to delve into the human psyche, exploring themes of identity and memory through the lens of a protagonist plagued by amnesia.

While Somewhere in the Night may not boast the flawless logic of his later epics, it stands as a pivotal piece in Mankiewicz’s filmography. It captures the essence of noir with its complex narrative and rich character development, all while maintaining the energetic pace and intrigue that define the genre. 

The film’s success lies in its power to immerse viewers in the protagonist’s disoriented world, making them feel every bit of his confusion and desperation as he navigates a maze of friends and foes.

Mankiewicz’s early work in noir laid the groundwork for his subsequent cinematic triumphs. Somewhere in the Night may be a lesser-known entry in his oeuvre, but it is a crucial link in the chain of his directorial evolution. It is a film that not only entertains but also offers a glimpse into the early stylistic choices and narrative interests that would come to fruition in Mankiewicz’s later, more celebrated projects.

Despite its rich narrative tapestry and high-caliber production, the film has languished in relative obscurity. Perhaps its lack of iconic noir actors, save for Richard Conte and, to a lesser degree, Lloyd Nolan, contributed to its underappreciation. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the director, is more renowned for his work on Gentleman’s Agreement and A Letter to Three Wives, overshadowing this noir gem. 

Yet, the film’s script is a labyrinth of twists surpassing even Agatha Christie’s cunning plots, and Mankiewicz’s direction is nothing short of masterful.

The story follows George Taylor (John Hodiak), a war hero who, after a grenade blast, awakens to a life unrecognizable even to himself. His quest for identity leads him to Los Angeles in search of Larry Cravat, a name linked to his past. The trail is cold and fraught with danger; no one acknowledges knowing Taylor or Cravat. A mysterious bag left in unclaimed luggage—a gun, a holster, and a note about a bank account—propels Taylor deeper into the enigma.

His investigation draws him to a nightclub called the Cellar, where he encounters Chris (Nancy Guild), a chanteuse connected to Cravat through a mutual acquaintance. The plot thickens as Taylor is abducted and interrogated by Anselmo (Fritz Kortner), a desperate criminal seeking Cravat’s whereabouts. Taylor’s only lead is a witness to a pivotal shooting, now a patient in a sanatorium, shielded from the world.

The film’s narrative is a tapestry of well-crafted characters, each defying the stereotypes of the genre. Anselmo, portrayed by Kortner, is a fallen kingpin clinging to a sliver of hope for redemption. Josephine Hutchinson delivers a poignant performance as a woman who recognizes Taylor amidst a sea of strangers. Hodiak’s portrayal of Taylor is a delicate balance of vulnerability and determination, a man haunted by a past that might hold a fortune—or a truth he fears to confront.

In the cinematic labyrinth of Somewhere in the Night, John Hodiak’s portrayal of George Taylor is the emotional compass that guides the audience through the narrative’s twists and turns. His co-star, Nancy Guild, embodies the film’s allure, her natural charisma and understated elegance lending a cool sophistication to the role of Christy.

Guild’s premature departure from acting left a void in the noir genre, where her talent shone brightly albeit briefly. Her performance strikes a delicate balance, infusing Christy with a blend of audacity and poise that defies the damsel-in-distress trope.

Fritz Kortner’s Anzelmo, the crystal ball reader, injects a dose of eccentricity into the film. His theatrical vigor brings a dynamic energy to his scenes, elevating the film’s intrigue. As the plot unravels, revealing its secrets, the story’s credibility wavers, demanding the audience to embrace the improbable. The script’s ambition occasionally overshoots, muddling pivotal revelations with overzealous complexity.

Despite these narrative hiccups, the film’s charm prevails, buoyed by engaging performances and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s polished direction. The film asserts that the essence of storytelling lies in the journey rather than the conclusion. Somewhere in the Night invites viewers to revel in its shadowy voyage, where the path traveled is as compelling as the truths uncovered.

Guild’s Chris is a nod to the femme fatales of the era, exuding a subtle sensuality and strength. The supporting cast, including Henry Morgan, Whit Bissell, Jeff Corey, and John Russell, enriches the film’s complex world.

Somewhere in the Night stands as a testament to the genre’s enduring allure, a film that weaves a tale of intrigue and identity, of shadows and light. It is a narrative that deserves to be rediscovered, to be viewed not just as a relic of its time but as a piece of cinematic art that continues to captivate and challenge audiences. 

In the end, the film’s journey from obscurity to recognition mirrors the very mysteries it so skillfully presents.





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.


CLASSY QUOTES:


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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