"Appealing mystery tells the story of a World War II vet (John Hodiak) who suffers a terrible injury somewhere in the Pacific theater of operations, gains a new, surgically reconstructed face and loses his memory. Will he, somewhere in the night, find out who he really is?
Okay, let me amend and adjust that endorsement. I didn't recognize John Hodiak at all, although author Eddie Muller tells us he was a fairly well established star in the mid-40s on Muller's entertaining and informative commentary track. A quick internet search of his name disgorged a number of movies I've seen that Hodiak has been in, including a couple I like a lot. Hodiak plays a weary soldier in the good Battle of the Bulge movie `Battleground,' and he's one of the washed aboard survivors in Alfred Hitchcock's `Lifeboat.' Hodiak, about 30 when SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT was made was square shouldered, jut jawed, and seemed to favor a trim Clark Gable moustache. In appearance he was something of a cross between Don Ameche and Martin Landau, I guess, with a voice that reminded me of George Raft. I'm writing this in detail because, if this is Hodiak laying it out as a lead star, I'm certain to disremember him the next time around. SITN is future Oscar-winning director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first feature, so maybe that explains why he allowed his male lead to play it so... tense for the duration. It doesn't help much that Mankiewicz cast 19-year-old newcomer Nancy Guild opposite Hodiak as the female lead. Hodiak, stiff as shoe leather, doesn't have nearly enough in his own cache of charisma to wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off Guild's face, much less pump a cubic ounce of air into a scene. Confirming a couple of mistily formed suspicions, Muller tells us Guild was hired by Fox to be their Lauren Bacall. Doe-eyed sultresses were big back then, at least Bacall was, and Guild was certainly pretty enough to roll the dice on. Unfortunately she's more animated in her publicity stills than she is when the cameras are rolling, the shadows looming and the cigarette smoke curling. Guild's scenes alone with Hodiak are about as exciting as watching two people read a telephone directory to each other.
The leads are pretty awful and the plot, after the army medic unwraps the bandages from Hodiak's reconstructed face, is serpentine and confusing as heck. But the dialogue is snappy, Mankiewicz was a great writer, and the supporting cast is simply wonderful. Austrian actor Fritz Kortner plays an unscrupulous fortune-teller named Anzelmo and steals every scene he's in. Of course, he's not in any scenes with Lloyd Nolan, who plays a wise-cracking police detective and steals every scene he's in. Throw the always reliable Richard Conte into the mix as a night club owner, plus Harry Morgan, Margo Woode (if Conte and Woode had been cast in the leads this one would have been a certified classic,) Sheldon Leonard, et alia, and you have an incredibly strong and entertaining line-up. If SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT succeeds, and it does, it's because of the great script and over-competent supporting cast. Hodiak is stiff and a little detached, while poor Nancy Guild... well, as Muller says somewhere, she does try awfully hard. The plot's impossible to follow, the dialogue sparkles, and Kortner, Nolan, Conte, and the rest more than make up for the weak leads. A reasonably strong recommendation for this enjoyable flick.
Underrated, unusual, and lots of fun
Joe Sixpack -- Slipcue.com | ...in Middle America | 02/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An interesting, off-the-beaten-track film noir about an amnesiac soldier, recently discharged from the Marines, who returns to civilian life to rediscover his own past. Actor John Hodiak (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Val Kilmer...) plays his role with a sleepy-yet-cool reserve -- for a guy who thinks he's just an average joe, he sure seems to handle himself well when things start getting weird and dangerous in his old hometown of LA. Lee Strasberg (later of the Actor's Studio) delivers a compelling though flawed script... The first half of the film has an odd, stylish charm -- the flip, tough-guy rhetoric of the genre is tempered with a hefty dose of absurdism and playfulness. There are some great sequences and fun, zippy dialogue, although the prologue is far superior to the action part of the film. The second half lumbers along, and while it becomes clumsy, it's still entertaining and definitely a notch above many B-grade efforts of the same era. One particular treat is an extended role for Lloyd Nolan, who plays a too-cool, insouciant police detective -- his introduction is a real hoot, where he effortlessly steals the scene and leaves the audience wanting more... Lots more. You might not have heard of this film before -- I sure hadn't -- but it's definitely worth checking out!"
Nonsensical Plot. Mediocre Dialogue. But Still a Satisfying
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 06/16/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Somewhere in the Night" is a film noir that was released, appropriately, in June 1946, shortly after World War II ended. Its protagonist is a recently discharged veteran returning home. Not surprisingly, instead of a placid, welcoming environment, he comes home to confusion, violence, and fear. George Taylor (John Hodiak) was injured when a grenade exploded, breaking his jaw and relieving him of his memory. Lying in veterans' hospitals with his jaw wired shut, unable to speak, George passes the time wondering who he is. After recuperating, he returns to his supposed home town Los Angeles in an embittered state of mind. Searching for clues to his identity, he retrieves a briefcase he left in storage 3 years ago. In it, he finds a letter stating that $5,000 was deposited in George Taylor's bank account by a Mr. Larry Cravat. George sets out to find Mr. Cravat, the only person who might be able to shed some light on his identity. But inquiries about Cravat only get him beaten, threatened, and suspected of murder. Dumped on the doorstep of pretty young nightclub singer Christy Smith (Nancy Guild), George confides in her. Christy enlists the assistance of her boss Mel Phillips (Richard Conte) and Police Detective Kendall (Lloyd Nolan) to help George find Larry Cravat and his own identity.
You would rack up quite a score counting the conventions of the noir style and themes present in this "Somewhere in the Night". But as foreboding as it may be at times, this film doesn't take itself very seriously. Director Joseph Mankiewicz has included some joking references to the dark crime films from which "Somewhere in the Night" takes its queues. There is an ongoing joke about detectives in movies always keeping their hats on, because Det. Kendall takes his off as social custom requires. And a vampy, villainous woman makes a reference to killing her colleague for "double indemnity", apparently a reference to the 1944 film "Double Indemnity". It might not be a coincidence that the character who delivers the line is named Phyllis (Margo Woode). Still, "Somewhere in the Night" is dark when it needs to be, incorporating themes of identity confusion, paranoia, persecution, and isolation into a detective story and romance. Nancy Guild makes her silver screen debut as sweet-but-smart Christy Smith, who brings logic and a level head to George's panic and frustration. "Somewhere in the Night" isn't a sophisticated film noir, but it's satisfying.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2005): There is a theatrical trailer (2 min) and an audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller. Muller discusses the film's amnesia, detective, and paranoia themes, the very recognizable supporting cast, the coincidences that move the plot along, and a variety of other trivia. It's a worthwhile commentary, but I'm not sure that Muller likes this film very much. I get the impression that he finds it too cliched. But it wasn't so cliched in 1946. Subtitles for the film are available in English and Spanish."
Mankiewicz Embodies Film Noir in Excellent Amnesiac Thriller
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 09/22/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The predicament with amnesia, besides the obvious loss of memory, is the confusion and disorientation that the individuals experience while trying to get a grasp with reality. A simple direction might be more impossible than the most complex of riddles, as there is no coherent foundation to lean on in regards to previous experiences. Names, locations, and knowledge are only foggy symbolical representations of the unknown while only adding more bewilderment within the individual. Thus, amnesia presents a terrific opportunity to create film noir, as the loss of cognitive processes induces an ominous and mysterious atmosphere that does not let its grip go of the audience. Somewhere in the Night offers such an experience where a man drifts out of hazy unconsciousness to find himself lost in his own existence.
An angled rear shot of a man's head and an upside-down IV-bottle on which the words "Normal Human Plasma, Dried" fade in after the appearance of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's name. Symbolically, the shot suggests immediately that something is wrong, as the inverted bottle is an icon for hospitalization and illness. Furthermore, the overturned text of the bottle hints toward the notion of a puzzled existence of a normal human being. Thanks to Mankiewicz's inspiring direction the film's first shot facilitates mind provoking suspense, as the camera slowly pans to the left displaying a small military hospital tent with some severely injured and a disheartened man covering his face in his hands. An unpromising future arises within this initial scene where death, injury, and hopelessness metaphorically present itself through the bleak future that many injured soldiers faced in military hospitals. It is clear that Mankiewicz understands the film noir spirit, as he offers such a meticulously planned first scene that sets the mood for the rest of the film.
After the pan the camera smoothly focuses in on a man who wakes up out of his injury-induced sleep discovering that he cannot move his mouth, or remember who he is, while other than people address him as George Taylor. He has no other choice than to assume that he is George Taylor (John Hodiak), as he recovers from his severe injuries at the final stage of the war. He becomes a civilian shortly after the end of the war, but he has very few clues about his identity other than his name. The lack of concrete evidence is unnerving and troubling to him, as it only makes him more suspicious about himself and whom he can trust. In addition, it is even more bewildering that he has a hard time uncovering the truth about his own identity. The only thing that is certain with his situation is that something is wrong when he begins to investigate himself. The first clue that he follows only adds to the perplexity of his situation when he finds another clue in a gun, a bank account with $5,000 (at the time it was a large amount of money), and a name.
Somewhere in the Night cleverly applies the concept of amnesia in a well-made film noir experience with a vague and ominously pensive mood even though the story might seem a little implausible. The camerawork and framing of several scenes augment the doomed atmosphere, as the protagonist seeks the truth. George's search keeps the audience guessing, but never completely sure about what has happened in the past, as he exposes new hints of his identity. Not only does Mankiewicz capture the tone of film noir through George, he embodies the theme of noir in an utterly exceptional manner. Every aspect of the film raises dubiousness: the characters, the hero, the plot, mise-en-scene, and the location of the film. There is nothing left to chance, as Mankiewicz provides a truly extraordinary cinematic experience that offers amusement, suspense, and contemplation."
Mankiewicz on His Learning Curve
J. Michael Click | Fort Worth, Texas United States | 09/11/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Movie: *** DVD Transfer: *** Extras: ***1/2
A mystery with film noir elements, "Somewhere in the Night" tells the story of an amnesiac WWII veteran (John Hodiak) who sets out to recover his prewar identity, only to learn that he once may have been involved in a crime that culminated in an unsolved murder. Yet despite this intriguing premise, the film never really jells because the script is both confusing and overlong, and because Joseph L. Mankiewicz's direction lacks the proper pacing and control, which causes the suspense to dissipate before the somewhat obvious climax (this was only his second directorial effort, following "Dragonwyck"). It's a pity, really, because there are so many things about this movie that do work: Norbert Brodine's brooding cinematography is superb; the costumes, set decorations, and art direction are particularly stylish; and there are wonderful performances from Richard Conte, Margo Woode, and especially Lloyd Nolan as a smooth detective and Josephine Hutchison, who makes her single scene in the movie a standout. The two romantic leads, John Hodiak and Nancy Guild, give acceptable performances but would have benefited greatly from tighter direction.
Like the movie itself, Fox Home Video's presentation of this somewhat obscure noir is lacking. Although the video contrast is generally commendable, there are several scenes in which the graininess of the transfer is distracting, and there are one or two sequences in which the film is plagued by vertical lines of video noise (especially during the opening credits). The sound, however, is crisp and clear throughout. The extras include a commentary track (which I did not play), the Original Theatrical Trailer, and the trailers for three other Fox noirs, including "The Street With No Name", and the soon-to-be released "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and "No Way Out". Although I can't in all good conscience give "Somewhere in the Night" an enthusiastic recommendation, I can tell you that despite its faults I enjoyed watching it, and that if you're a film noir or mystery buff ... or a Mankiewicz completist ... there's a good chance you will find something here to like as well."