Friday, June 29, 2012
Somewhere in the Night (1946)
Somewhere in the Night was one of many 1940s movies to explore the idea of amnesia, a subject that fascinated Hollywood at this time. This 1946 20th Century-Fox film noir was also Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s first feature film (although he had earlier taken over as director on Dragonwyck when Ernst Lubitsch fell ill.
A Marine (played by John Hodiak) wakes up in a military hospital. He had been unconscious after getting much too close to an exploding hand grenade. He is well on the road to recovery but he now has no idea who he is.
His ID tells him that his name is George Taylor. It means nothing to him. For some obscure reason he is afraid to admit that he has lost his memory. It may have something to do with a letter he found, a letter telling him he was such a louse he ought to be dead. He feels compelled to find out about his past if only to discover why someone hated him so much to wish him dead.
He has one major clue to work on, another letter from a certain Larry Cravat. Cravat wrote to tell him he’d deposited five thousand dollars in Taylor’s bank account, and calling him his buddy. When he starts looking for Cravat he discovers that this upsets a lot of people. It upsets one of them enough to earn Taylor a savage beating. But he is still determined to track down the mysterious Larry Cravat.
And of course he meets a girl, Christy (Nancy Guild). They get off on the wrong foot but pretty soon Christy has fallen for him in a big way. He tells her his story and she has faith in him, even when it appears that Taylor’s past may have been somewhat sordid and that he may be mixed up in a spectacular crime - the theft of two million dollars smuggled out of Germany by the Nazis. She is confident that he can’t really be a bad guy.
Christy introduces Taylor to some people who may be able to help him. Firstly there’s her boss, Mel Phillips (Richard Conte). She assures Taylor that he’s a really nice guy and he is. Mel suggests that Detective-Lieutenant Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan) may be able to offer him the assistance he needs. Kendall is a homicide cop whose good humour hides a deceptively acute mind.
New clues appear, only to lead to more blind alleys. Cravat was definitely involved in the hunt for the Nazi money but so were lots of other people, including self-described small-time chiseller Anzelmo (Fritz Kortner) and would-be femme fatale Phyllis (Margo Woode). There was also a murder connected with the theft and both Larry Cravat and George Taylor seem to have been at the crime scene. Could George Taylor really be a murderer? Christy assures him he could never have done anything like that but Taylor is not so sure. The plot just keeps throwing more curve balls at poor George but eventually he feels he is getting close to the truth. But can he handle the truth?
Hodiak is solid and the supporting cast is excellent, especially Richard Conte and Lloyd Nolan while Fritz Cortner does his best to steal every scene he’s in. Margo Woode is a terrific low-class dangerous dame who is not as smart as she thinks she is.
The potential weak link is Nancy Guild. It was the nineteen-year-old’s film debut and her inexperience shows at times, especially with so many old hands in the cast. She also has the misfortune to be playing the good girl, and making the film noir good girl interesting was always tougher than making the femme fatale interesting. She does her best and she just about gets away with it.
Manckiewicz’s inexperience also shows at times but he had a good crew and the result is a solid and entertaining if unspectacular movie with some nice noirish photographic effects. It’s a second-tier noir but it’s enjoyable.
Fox’s DVD as usual for their film noir releases boasts a great transfer and a commentary track.