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Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz came a long way from directing such monumental motion pictures as All About Eve, Cleopatra and smaller but cherished productions like A Letter to Three Wives and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Friday Film Noir

‘Somewhere in the Night’ is a Nutty Film Noir Replete with Vim and Verve

Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz came a long way from directing such monumental motion pictures as All About Eve, Cleopatra and smaller but cherished productions like A Letter to Three Wives and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Friday Film Noir

A man (John Hodiak) wakes up in a military hospital, cognizant of the fact that he has been in battle for the United States but entirely oblivious of who he is or where he lives. Only a few cryptic pieces of paper in his pocket inform him of his name  George Taylor; that a woman now hates him; and that a good pal of his, Larry Cravat, wants to meet him in Los Angeles transfer a significant amount of saved up funds through a bank account. Thus begins George’s vertiginous journey into the City of Angels, where the clues as to his true identity sometimes add up whilst other times stir further confusion. By all accounts, there are some people who view the name Larry Cravat as either a threat, as in the case of Lt. Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan), or as a disposable conduit towards fortune, such as crystal ball reader Anzelmo (Fritz Kortner) and accomplice Elizabeth (Josephine Hutchinson). Thankfully, there are nightclub singer Christy Smith (Nancy Guild) and her close friend Mel Philips (Richard Conte),  more altruistic people willing to help George sift through his mystery.

Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz came a long way from directing such monumental motion pictures as All About EveCleopatra and smaller but cherished productions like A Letter to Three Wives and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Like so many of his contemporaries who went on to earn considerable success and plaudits, Mankiewicz made a name for himself by directing noir. Before re-telling the escapades of one of Egypt’s greatest leaders in one of Hollywood’s most controversial epics, he earned his spurs with Somewhere in the Night, a nutty little film replete with vim and verve if not always the soundest logic. Despite whatever flaws are exposed, the film nevertheless succeeds in effectively thrusting the viewer into the world of a man suffering a bad case of amnesia, discovering enemies he did not even know he had and new allies he is thankful to meet.

A lot rests on the shoulders of John Hodiak. Playing an amnesia-ridden character can’t be the simplest of tasks demanded of an actor. One’s performance has to build enough personality for the viewer to at least partially connect with or understand the protagonist all while holding back on a quest of discovery. It sounds a lot like playing a dual role; the one the character thinks they are and the one the pieces to the puzzle indicate he or she actually is. Hodiak is admirable in the role, providing George Taylor with a level of composure despite the insane stress related to his predicament. There is a suaveness to Hodiak that makes him a likable chap, a fellow worth investing one’s empathy into. A few scenes are overplayed, such as when his visit to the bank to collect a large sum of money goes awry (in a conspicuous move, Taylor freaks out completely a walks away when the teller shows the subtlest signs of suspicion) but overall, the performance has enough heft to carry the story through, particularly in the later stages.

Somewhere in the Night Finds Adequate Balance Somewhere Between Mystery and Compelling Drama

In a twist that will remind some viewers of the conclusion of The Bourne Identity, George slowly comes to learn that in his past life, so to speak, he was a lot less nice than he currently feels he is. It appears his past deeds hurt a lot of people emotionally and physically. This aspect of the story is the key to land the right amount of emotional depth. Mankiewicz does not limit himself to telling the story of a lost man in search of himself but a man that feels like a good enough person coming to discover that he is, or was, not so virtuous. That extra bit of character development revealed through the forest of clues that nearly take his life and that of his potential lover Christy. Through the myriad of episodes, George and Christy live, most of them incurring the terrific risk, the film lightly touches upon a pertinent philosophical question: what does it mean to be good or bad?

If Hodiak’s work is important to help make the story believable on an emotional level, co-star Nancy Guild represents the film’s cool factor. Guild, in addition to being quite easy on the eyes, was a genuine talent who left acting all too early in her life, not to mention the fact that she never reached a level of stardom many other brilliant actresses who also played in film noir did. While nothing can be done about the fact that she never made it big, viewers can at least appreciate her work in Somewhere in the Night. Christy is smitten with George (a tad cliché, granted) but does not demonstrate her desire to win the protagonists’ heart as a fair maiden would. She shows spunk, courage, and a very level head. The performance is really quite good, finding a great balance between cockiness and smoothness, never giving too much to either. Fritz Kortner as Anzelmo the crystal ball reader is the film’s wild card. A loquacious showman, Anzelmo, played with contagious theatricality by Kortner, is that extra bit of energy that kicks his few scenes into high gear.

As the film pours out many revelations in the final third, the plot becomes less believable. To completely buy into who George Taylor really is and who has been trying to have his neck for the better part of the picture, a certain suspension of disbelief is required. At times, the script wants to be a bit too clever for its own good as well as failing to land a convincing punch when one of the characters reveals their dark intentions. Whether said missteps are too much for the movie to survive is open to debate. Many of the performances are just too fun and likable for a few bumps in the road, albeit in the most important section of the film, to drag it down. Mankiewicz’s direction is also slick from start to finish and helps smoothen out the proceedings. The best argument one can offer up is that the journey matters more than the destination.

— Edgar Chaput

Written By

A native of Montréal, Québec, Edgar Chaput has written and podcasted about pop culture since 2011. At first a blogger, then a contributor to Tilt's previous iteration (Sound on Sight), he now helps cover tv and film on a weekly basis. In addition to enjoying the Hollywood of yesteryear and martial arts movies, he is a devoted James Bond fan. English, French, and decent at faking Spanish, don't hesitate to poke him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/double_oh_Pop), Facebook or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/edchap14/).

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