Somewhere in the Night


Somewhere in the Night (1946), that title alone is imbued with all the uncertainty and ambiguity that is such an essential ingredient of film noir. Add in the theme of amnesia and it’s tempting to imagine this movie might be the classic example of the form. Well, it doesn’t quite get there; the plot is twisty, the characters even more so and their motives are buried deep in a half-remembered past. Everything looks right, and at times sounds right too, but maybe there is too much going on, too many strands to follow with the result that the viewer is left to navigate the kind of fog our protagonist must battle his way through.

No time is wasted in the opening, a field hospital where all manner of wounds and injuries are being treated by stressed and weary medics. George Taylor (John Hodiak) is lying in bunk drifting in and out of a morphine induced haze, his jaw wired up and his memory wiped after a close encounter with a grenade. The fact is George Taylor isn’t even sure that’s his real name, the doctors call him that but he doesn’t really know, and he’s both puzzled and uneasy by the letter he finds among his belongings. It’s incomplete but there’s enough there to tell him it’s from a woman, one who is consumed with bitterness and recrimination, and all of it directed towards him. Well he eventually gets shipped back to the States and so begins his fumbling efforts to establish his identity, efforts which hint at large sums of money awaiting him, but few friends if any to guide him along. Conversely, the more he learns, the less he appears to know, and the more nonplussed he becomes. A letter from a guy called Larry Cravat tells him there’s cash in the bank in his name, but this only increases his suspicion. Who is Larry Cravat, and why does every question asked about him lead to further suspicion and violence? Taylor’s world is reduced to a stumbling quest through night clubs and slums, peopled by hoods and chiselers, where swank businessmen rub shoulders with dubious fortune-tellers and a convoluted trail involving Nazi loot and murder leads to a sinister sanatorium and a final showdown on the waterfront.

The films of Joseph L Mankiewicz have a tendency to be stylish but wordy, and I think that’s true of Somewhere in the Night. Norbert Brodine’s cinematography drapes the 20th Century Fox studio sets in very attractive shadows while Mankiewicz’s script (with uncredited contributions from Lee Strasberg and Somerset Maugham) and direction are characteristically polished. For all that though, the plot is packed tight and is of a density that hinders rather than helps. For every morsel of slick, hard-boiled idiom, there’s a side order of undercooked exposition to be dealt with. This kills the pace at vital moments, the complications unnecessary and the detours involved only sporadically interesting. While a predatory Margo Woode offers a masterclass in would-be sophisticated patter and burnished brass, her presence and interactions with a slippery and proudly amoral Fritz Kortner feel like they have blown in from a different movie.  In fact, the entire Nazi loot subplot has an air of pastiche to it, channeling elements of The Maltese Falcon to such an extent that by the time the confrontation in Kortner’s dingy flat rolls around I was half expecting Hodiak to lean over to Ms Woode and mutter: “Six, two and even they’re selling you out.”

I can’t help thinking tales of amnesia and 1940s movies seem to go hand in hand, a feeling that’s perhaps been heightened by the fact I watched another variation on this the other day in William Dieterle’s Love Letters. In that case, however, the loss of memory is suffered by Jennifer Jones’ traumatized heroine as opposed to Joseph Cotten’s returning veteran. Nevertheless, that tumultuous post-war world, where everything has been upended and all the old certainties swept aside, provides fertile ground for stories of recollections lost and the consequent pros and cons presented by the unknown and the uncharted. John Hodiak is a personable hero, getting across the self-doubt of his character, that need to learn more about the man he once was while also fearing what he may discover in the process.

Nancy Guild is fine as his Girl Friday, but her role is a touch bland and she makes only a limited impression compared to Margo Woode’s flashy turn.  Where Hodiak is necessarily cautious, Richard Conte is typically sharp and assured, rapping out his lines with a confidence that dares the world to challenge him. Lloyd Nolan is hugely enjoyable as the cop in the case, unflappable and unfazed by the deceptions and betrayals all around him, representing a beacon of sorts amid all the shifting currents. A word too for Josephine Hutchinson; hers is a small part and arguably not really essential in advancing the plot yet that one scene she has remains memorable. The movie makes a number of points about the effects of the war on those who have come back as different men to a radically changed society, but the effect on those who were left behind is no less important. That brief interlude which says so much about loss, loneliness and the hurt of missed opportunities is deeply touching, and Josephine Hutchinson’s sensitive and restrained work opposite Hodiak is quite wonderful.

Somewhere in the Night is a movie which has always felt like a bit of a companion piece for The Crooked Way. They do not tell the same story but there are definite points of similarity, enough to tie them together in this viewer’s mind at least. I think the latter is the more successful film due to its pared down nature and tighter focus overall. That said, Somewhere in the Night is entertaining, classy and has enough positives to offset its weaknesses. Perhaps it isn’t the quintessential film noir that the title alludes to, but it’s still a solid genre piece.

So, that brings me to the end of 2021. All that’s left to say is Happy New Year to all those who have spent time here. May 2022 bring only good things for all of us.

36 thoughts on “Somewhere in the Night

  1. I think I may be a bigger fan of “SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT” than you, Colin. I have a great fondness for post-war ‘films noir’ that show an ordinary Joe struggling with a changed world, the effects that war have had on himself and those around him. Amnesia is a great plot ‘hook’ to make a great story.

    Films that star Messrs Hodiak, Conte and Nolan are sure to draw me in anytime. I have started to really appreciate John Hodiak quite recently. As far as I’m concerned, Colin, you have made a fine choice for your last review of 2021.

    Wishing you and all my buddies on this brilliant blogsite a Happy New Year that sees us emerge from the gloom.

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    • I’d agree with much of what you say, Jerry. I like the movie well enough but I do have some reservations about the density of the plot. On balance, it satisfies overall and I like the “look” of many of these Fox noirs.

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  2. Haven’t seen this in a long time. It didn’t make an impression on me and I being less than impressed with Nancy Guild. maybe a second view is needed.
    Very best wishes for the new year.

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    • Yes, there seemed to be something of a boom in amnesia pictures in the post-war years, but it’s a good plot device for thrillers from any period and was being used on into the 1960s and beyond – it has never really fallen out of fashion.

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  3. I know what you mean Colin, saw this a few years back and, despite its excellent credentials, I found it all a bit lethargic. In fact, it literally put me to sleep! I probably should give it another go … 😁

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    • It had been ages since my last viewing as well and I was keen to give it another go. I don’t think my opinion of it has altered all that much. The pacing is uneven and that’s affected by the script. It opens strongly, folds in layers of mystery and danger, and then runs into problems. It doesn’t grind to a halt but it definitely slows down and flails around in a mess of complications for some time. Perhaps being more aware of that going in, and also appreciating the stronger and more effective moments when they come along, make it a bit more rewarding.

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  4. Don’t know what happened with my original comment but
    here goes again.
    Nancy Guild is the only thing I remember liking about this film,
    I much prefer the similar THE CROOKED WAY.
    A year later Mankiewicz made ESCAPE (1948) which he
    brought in at a trim 78 minutes;it’s a rare beast; a Mankiewicz film
    that you actually wish was longer.
    Let’s hope that ’22 is a better year for us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting that you enjoyed Nancy Guild’s work in this.
      I think Escape came up in chat or feedback in the past but I can’t be sure now. It’s a movie I have yet to catch up with and I don’t believe it’s had an official release anywhere. There is a version online that looks just about passable:

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  5. SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT is a personal favourite and, despite its flaws, I would contend that it’s one of the great Noirs. Comparison has been made to the similarly plotted CROOKED WAY but SITN beats it hands down IMO in terms of the essential Noir ingredients of mystery and intrigue. One never seriously doubts that John Payne, with his impeccable thick ear credentials, will muscle his way to unpick the puzzle inherent in CROOKED WAY, whilst John Hodiak’s more vulnerable protagonist blunders uneasily to a conclusion through a maze of fog shrouded wharfs and gloomy tenements. To borrow Charles Bronson’s line from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Hodiak’s George Taylor is “just a man”. Another facet which nudges this movie to greatness is Hodiak’s mysterious and elliptical encounter with Josephine Hutchinson’s Elizabeth Conroy. “Memories are like the pages of a book stuck together”. One of the great Noir dialogues, almost on a par with the Paul Kelly / Sam Levene encounter in CROSSFIRE that takes place in the shadows of Gloria Grahame’s gloomy apartment. There’s a feeling of crossing into a shadowy dream-like dimension that evokes the best work of David Lynch. I think the word ‘oneiric’ probably covers it.
    Anyway Colin you could say I like this picture. Thanks also for recently prompting me to finally get round to watching RED CANYON. A movie that has sat unwatched on my desk for many years. It was an absolute visual treat. I didn’t like it as much as you did, but I did like it! A very Happy New Year to you and all other visitors to your excellent and essential blog. A place that I visit on a daily basis.

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    • Nice to hear from you, Mr Beal, and a Happy New Year to you too.

      I’m in full agreement on that dialogue, and the entire scene actually, with Josephine Hutchinson, it’s one of the high points and the movie is all the better for its inclusion.
      I take your point about the quality Hodiak brings to the movie, how the tone of the whole piece differs from that of The Crooked Way as a result.

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  6. Hollywood was obsessed with amnesia and psychiatry and mental illness and Freudianism in the 40s. The problem with watching these movies today is that they inevitably come across as high camp and silly. Today it’s just not possible to take a movie dealing with amnesia or Freudianism seriously.

    Coincidentally my Hitchcock Friday post this week is – Spellbound! A fine example of how silly these movies now seem. A huge hit in 1945 but seen now it seems like Hitchcock’s worst movie.

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    • I love Spellbound so I can’t think of it as a bad movie by any standard, let alone a bad Hitchcock film. I like the way the director used his own visual flair and blended in amnesia, melodrama, romance and suspense. That’s not to say the film is perfect of course, but I feel what problems it has stem from the po-faced piety with regard to psychoanalysis Selznick seems determined to insert wherever possible.

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      • Yes, it did occur to me that Selznick may have been (as usual) responsible for many of the film’s flaws. I find Spellbound silly but it’s fun and certainly has some nice visual touches.

        I’m afraid I’m not a great admirer of any of Hitchcock’s 1940s movies. The combination of the Production Code and studio interference made his task impossible. I know it’s the rankest heresy but I find even Notorious to be severely flawed.

        For me the late 30s and the 1950s were peak Hitchcock.

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        • I keep thinking about posting something on Notorious myself, and I may do so yet, so I’ll not go into it or the director’s work in general too deeply here.
          Suffice to say I quite like Hitchcock in the 1940, he was trying out a lot of different techniques and ideas and the external pressures were, in my opinion anyway, good for him (and indeed good for a lot of filmmakers) as they encouraged more reliance on creative thinking and subtlety, and subtlety is no bad thing.
          It’s only right at the end of the 1940s that I feel Hitchcock’s work dips somewhat with The Paradine Case, Rope and Under Capricorn.

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          • I think that if you wanted to make grown-up movies in Hollywood in the 40s you had to be prepared to fight the Production Code Authority and the studios. Guys like Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger were willing to do so. Preminger loved a good fight. Fritz Lang dug his heels in over Scarlet Street and won. But I don’t think Hitchcock had the temperament to do that.

            Hitchcock in the 40s was a genius director but instead of making masterpieces he ended up making compromised movies.

            He was certainly willing to experiment. Maybe that was a reaction to the stifling atmosphere of 40s Hollywood – if he couldn’t make grown-up movies he’d concentrate on technical experimentation which he was at least allowed to do.

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            • Some really interesting points made here by Deb. This could start a whole interesting discussion on the films of Hitchcock, one of my absolute favourite directors. I certainly agree about his films of the 30s and the 50s but, for me, some of his finest and most enjoyable films come from the 40s. I am thinking of “FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT”, “NOTORIOUS” and especially “SHADOW OF A DOUBT”.
              I do feel, however, always feel that “UNDER CAPRICORN” was a misstep.

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              • Under Capricorn is dull and the long take technique hurts it a lot. Even so, I still find Rope a much less satisfying experience. I’ve never been able to warm to either Farley Granger or John Dall as performers and their characters in that movie are entirely unsympathetic; I think a film whose focus is so firmly on villains needs to show the viewers something about them that might earn a modicum of understanding if nothing else. The fact that James Stewart is playing such an unlikeable type too compounds the problem, although his horror when he finally realizes the way he has helped facilitate the outrage committed does redeem him some. The only character I can really feel for is Cedric Hardwicke’s, and his is only a supporting role.
                From a technical perspective, the lighting effects used to show the passage of time via the skyline are very impressive though.

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                • I confess I have similar feelings about Dall and Granger as actors, Colin. “ROPE” certainly is not a favourite with me though I probably feel more positive than you about it. Hitch’s experiment with the single long take is handled well in the film and is impressive; he took it even further many years later in “FRENZY” with the long take across the street, inside and then up the stairs to find the horror in the upstairs office. No one quite like Hitch.

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                  • Hitchcock’s willingness to experiment, and the number of occasions on which he did so successfully never fails to astound me. I respect what he was trying to achieve with Rope (and with Under Capricorn too) but as a technical exercise and nothing more. I realize there are plenty of people who rate the film highly but, for me, it is a story of soulless people committing a soulless crime, which ultimately comes across as a soulless piece of cinema.

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                    • The motive for the murder in Rope? Wasn’t that a response to Rupert’s Nietzschean-style theories? As I understand it, the killers considered themselves to be above the usual moral and societal constraints and thus free to act as they saw fit, that their supposedly superior intellect meant they were not committing a crime, merely exercising a right.

                      ETA: I like to think that Hitchcock was critiquing the kind of clinical, academic approach that relegates human characteristics such as empathy and decency to afterthoughts in the pursuit of an ideal, that it was the director’s objective to recreate that detachment or intellectual chill. If so, it could be said to be successful, but even granting that it’s not a movie I have ever come away from with any particularly positive feeling.

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              • This could start a whole interesting discussion on the films of Hitchcock, one of my absolute favourite directors.

                I’d love to see that. I might be critical of some of his movies but he would still make my list of my five favourite directors of all time. Since I’ve started watching his movies again I’ve been struck by just how much there is to discuss about them. And I’ve been struck by the fact that each viewing of his best movies reveals new facets. I’ve seen Rear Window quite a few times and I see new things in it every time I watch it.

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                • Oh good! We’re on the same page here, Deb. Definitely.
                  I didn’t even mention “REBECCA”, “SUSPICION” or “SABOTEUR”, all of which I’ve seen multiple times over the (too) many years and never tire of.
                  I recently managed to pick up a copy of Hitch’s early “NUMBER SEVENTEEN” (1932), BFI-restored from a play by J. Jefferson Farjeon. Haven’t seen it yet but I look forward to giving it a go.

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                  • I didn’t even mention “REBECCA”, “SUSPICION” or “SABOTEUR”, all of which I’ve seen multiple times over the (too) many years and never tire of.

                    Every time I see SUSPICION I change my mind about the effectiveness of the ending. On one viewing I find myself thinking the ending actually used in the film works surprisingly well and is more subtle and clever and ambiguous than most people think. The next time I see it I think that ending was a disaster and that Hitchcock’s preferred ending was the only possible viable ending.

                    I’ve seen REBECCA countless times but not for about twenty years. I’m definitely going to be dreaming of going to Manderley again this year.

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                    • Coincidentally, I watched Rebecca again just the other day. I’ve always enjoyed it and that last viewing certainly didn’t change my mind any. The ghostly, otherworldly atmosphere of the house is so well realized and Judith Anderson’s insanely obsessive devotion is a superb bit of work. Of course the cast is uniformly good.
                      Sure it’s very much a Selznick picture, but there’s more of Hitchcock in it than some people will have you believe.

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  7. I wish I could say that I have a good feeling about 2022. I really do. But I don’t.

    I’m being a bit of a Debbie Downer today aren’t I? Sorry about that. Perhaps 2022 will surprise us and be a great year.

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  8. I’ve come to appreciate Richard Conte more and more over the years. He’s one of those actors who always adds something to any movie where he has a sizeable role – he never disappoints. The same year he made the great THE BIG COMBO, he was terrific in a little British B called LITTLE RED MONKEY. It’s worth watching for the lovely chemistry between him and the beautiful actress Rona Anderson. My very best wishes for the New Year to all the RTHC family.

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  9. I agree with all on the under-rated Conte’s work.

    All the best to everyone on their New Year’s endeavors as well as good health for themselves and their families.

    Gord

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