16 February 2013 | Spikeopath
I can't play along like this anymore. I'm getting the jumps. Chasing shadows.
Somewhere in the Night is directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who also co- adapts the screenplay with Howard Dimsdale from a story by Marvin Browsky. It stars John Hodiak, Nancy Guild, Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte, Josephine Hutchinson and Fritz Kortner. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by Norbert Brodine.
George Taylor (Hodiak) returns from the war suffering from amnesia and trying to track down his identity by following a trail started by a mysterious man named Larry Cravat. Pretty soon George finds himself thrust into a murder mystery where nothing is ever as it seems.
The amnesia sufferer is not in short supply in film noir, neither is the returning from the war veteran, but Somewhere in the Night may just be one of the most under appreciated to use these central themes. Amongst film noir writers it has a very mixed reputation, yet the trajectory it follows is quintessential film noir stuff.
George Taylor (Hodiak assured and rightly playing it as low-key confusion) is very much at the mercy of others, thus he finds himself wandering blindly into a labyrinthine murder mystery. His journey will see him get a beating (no matter he is one tough boy), pulled from one suspicious location to the next and introduce him to dames, a stoic copper, a shifty fortune teller and a "too good to be true?" club owner. The screenplay is deliberately convoluted, making paying attention essential, and the script blends tongue in cheek nonchalance with spicy oral stings.
The locations Taylor visits are suitably atmospheric, even macabre at times, which allows Mankiewicz and Brodine (Boomerang/Kiss of Death) to open up some noir visuals. Dr. Oracles's Crystal Ball parlour really kicks things off, fronted by Anzelmo (Kortner deliciously shady), it's a room adorned by face masks on the walls and lit eerily by the glow of a crystal ball. Then there's Lambeth Sanitorium, with low-lighted corridors, many doors that hide mentally troubled patients and the shadow inducing stairs. And finally the docks, with dark corners down by the lapping silver water, a solitary bar at the front, smoky and barely rising above dive status. These all form atmospheric backdrops to enhance the suspicion and confusion of the protagonist.
Nancy Guild (apparently pronounced as Guyled) didn't have much of a career, and much of the criticism for the acting in the film landed at her door, but unfairly so. It's true that she's more friendly side-kick than sultry femme fatale, but she has a good delivery style that compliments the doubling up with Hodiak. She's pretty as well, a sort of Bacall/Tierney cross that's most appealing. Elsewhere Conte and Nolan offer up the expected enjoyable noirish performances while a host of noir icons flit in and out of the story, making it fun to see who will pop up next? There is undeniably daft coincidences and credulity stretching moments within the plotting, and in true Mankiewicz style the film is often very talky, but it's never dull and quite often surprising, even having a trick up its sleeve in the finale. Great stuff. 8/10