An enjoyable pastiche of noir iconography swirled together into a cryptic tale of stolen Nazi money and an amnesiac war veteran who may also be a murderer, Somewhere in the Night (1946) was Joseph L. Mankiewicz's (All About Eve) second feature as director. (He had taken over Dragonwyck earlier that year, as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Ernst Lubitsch.)
This is one of those films where an all-important backstory and its collection of eccentric criminals becomes so convoluted that it's best to just sit back and let it flow, to soak up the mystery's basic momentum and atmosphere. The story concerns a soldier (John Hodiak) who, near the end of the war, had stepped on a landmine and was stricken with amnesia, though he decides to hide this from his doctors after finding a damning letter in his wallet from a spurned ex-lover.
Knowing little more than his name, George Taylor, and a last address in Los Angeles, once released from the Naval Hospital he sets out to learn more about his identity. Retrieving a long-forgotten suitcase he finds a gun and yet another letter from an old associate, Larry Cravat, who deposited $5,000 in an account in Taylor's name. However, his efforts to find Cravat prove troubling. Several gangster types, especially Anzelmo (Fritz Kortner), who fronts as fortune teller Dr. Oracle, want to find Cravat, too. Cravat, it seems, was a private eye, possibly dirty, involved with $2 million in stolen money (snuck into the country by fleeing Nazis) that went missing along with the elusive shamus.
Somewhere in the Night isn't especially memorable but it is engrossing, with Hodiak excellent as the ex-G.I. desperately struggling to learn just who he is, but also reluctant because he understands that he might very well be a heel at best, a murderer at worst. Hodiak was a good actor, in films as disparate as Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944) and the Judy Garland musical The Harvey Girls (1946), but his early death at 41 cut short an interesting career. Nancy Guild (rhymes with "wild"), as the piano girl at Richard Conte's basement nightclub, The Cellar, is appealing and classically noirish but her career petered out fast; subsequently she played the ingenue in Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man (1951). Lloyd Nolan, who had been a cop opposite Hodiak in Two Smart People earlier that same year, plays one here that's about halfway between his streetwise Michael Shayne and more sedate, methodical FBI Agent Briggs of The House on 92nd Street (1945). It's a small role, however, though Nolan is fine.
Film fans will take great delight in spotting all the familiar character actors in uncredited bit parts: Whit Bissel (as a bartender), Jeff Corey (bank teller), Harry Morgan (bath attendant), and Three Stooges regulars Cy Schindell (thug) and Philip Van Zandt (military doctor), among others.
The film does offer a few memorable set pieces, including a suspenseful search under some catacomb-like docks where a mossy suitcase has been hidden for several years; and Taylor's late-night break-in at a sanitarium, which is tense and a bit spooky. There's some good if limited use of Los Angeles locations (including Chinatown).
Video & Audio
Somewhere in the Night is presented in its original full frame format and looks good for its age, with strong blacks and little in the way of speckling and other age-related wear. The English mono track is clear and free of distortion; Fox's usual faux stereo track is on hand, along with a monophonic Spanish one. Optional subtitles are available in both English and Spanish.
Extras include another informative Commentary by Film Noir Historian Eddie Muller, whose talk includes details on the screen adaptation credit given The Actors Studio's Lee Strasberg, his only writing credit. A Trailer is complete with narration and text.
Even the title Somewhere in the Night encapsulates the whole of noir; I wouldn't be surprised if a book on the genre used this title. Overall it's only average though distinctive and engrossing.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.