Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Amnesia. A terrifying loss of self, or a chance to start anew? This is the theme explored in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1946 film noir Somewhere in the Night, starring John Hodiak (Lifeboat, Battleground, The Harvey Girls) and Nancy Guild (Give My Regards to Broadway, Black Magic, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man). Hodiak plays a WWII vet who awakens in a South Pacific hospital with a broken jaw and amnesia. The only clues to his identity? Doctors who keep calling him “George Taylor,” and a wallet empty but for a devastating, angry Dear John letter accusing him of destroying someone’s life. Unable to stand the idea of being that person, yet without any other identity, Taylor returns stateside, where he discovers that an old friend, Larry Cravat, has opened a bank account in his name, ready to support him upon his return to civilian life.
But his efforts to claim the money open up a can of worms and set a gang of thugs, conmen, mobsters, and even an evil fortune-teller on Taylor’s trail played by Fritz Kortner (The Razor’s Edge), all convinced he can lead them to the mysterious–and still missing–Larry Cravat.
Hodiak’s Taylor is likeable, earnest, and sympathetic, as he tries to navigate the increasingly confusing and seedy world of his pal, Larry Cravat. Mugged, beaten, chased by cops, thrown out of a sanatorium, and nearly run down by a truck (as it turns out, a villain’s weapon of choice), Hodiak can’t help but wonder: What kind of a guy is this Larry Cravat?
Along the way, Taylor hooks up with a few friendly faces–savvy nightclub singer Chris (Nancy Guild) has a soft spot for the guy, even when she finds out he’s on the trail of the man who broke her best friend’s heart and contributed to her death. A sympathetic police detective, played with delightful aplomb by Lloyd Nolan (The Untouchables, 77 Sunset Strip, Airport, Earthquake) provides some backstory into the criminal dealings Cravat may have been involved in. Chris introduces the local nightclub owner, played by Richard Conte (Call Northside 777, Ocean’s 11, The Godfather), who is in love with Chris and tries to help Taylor. Keep an eye out for producer/director/actor Sheldon Leonard (It’s a Wonderful Life) and Henry Morgan (M*A*S*H, Dragnet) in bit parts.
Solid writing and lively performances by the strong cast elevate Somewhere in the Night above its potentially predictable plot. Hodiak is gripping, a debonair fellow who could double for a young Vincent Price (as in Laura), and Guild is smart, classy, and surprising (it’s unfortunate that she had such a brief career; she’s very strong here). It’s a fun and compelling entry in the writing/directing catalogue of Hollywood great Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Guys and Dolls). And it boasts a fabulous film noir title that has little to do with the story, but definitely sounds like a film you should see.
And it is. Somewhere in the Night is hard to find, but worth seeking out. Set your TiVo or Google Fiber Smart Record to find it for you, or rent it on Amazon streaming video here. It’s not currently in print on DVD or Blu-ray.