SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT is a meandering but ultimately worthwhile film noir which stars John Hodiak as an amnesiac war vet in search of his identity.
John Hodiak plays a man who might be named George Taylor. He's not really sure, because he lost his memory when wounded during service in World War II. (Watch for a young John Russell during the field hospital sequence.) Upon being discharged, George follows the only clues he has about his past to Los Angeles, in search of a man named Larry Cravat and possibly two million dollars; the winding trail ultimately leads to the solution of a murder mystery.
Along the way George is aided by Christy (Nancy Guild), a nightclub singer; nightclub owner Mel (Richard Conte); and police detective Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan).
The film is somewhat hampered by its leisurely pace and Hodiak's fairly one-note performance, but there are a number of things which make it worth seeing, starting with the supporting cast. Richard Conte is smooth as the nightclub owner, and as the detective, Lloyd Nolan effortlessly steals every scene he's in.
When Nolan walks on screen, the film's energy level jumps considerably. During his first scene, discussing matters with other characters over a Chinese lunch, I kept marveling at how "real" he seemed. After the film I came across this article by Moira Finnie at the TCM blog; I remember reading it when it was posted, but had forgotten Moira's on-target comment about Nolan: "...to enjoy his apparently effortless skill at creating a character, providing exposition and giving a realistic texture to an otherwise bland, clichéd scene, check out his scene in a Chinese restaurant in Somewhere In the Night." One of the comments adds "I have often thought that acting schools should show that scene to prospective students." Amen.
The deeper supporting cast is filled with great faces like Sheldon Leonard, Harry Morgan, Whit Bissell, and Josephine Hutchinson.
And then we come to leading lady Nancy Guild, who is definitely one of the reasons to see the film, if only because she's such a curious case. I wasn't quite sure what to make of her and almost feel like I need to see the film again to further evaluate her performance. This starring role was Guild's first film, and she only made a small handful of other movies. She's attractive and poised onscreen, and she's considerably more lively than Hodiak, yet there's something subtly "off" about her. Her lines are delivered with what might be called a confident flatness, and somehow they don't sound believable. Nonetheless, I found her interesting and enjoyed watching her.
Guild passed away in 1999, and her life was briefly outlined by the New York Times.
The film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a script he cowrote with Howard Dimsdale. It was Mankiewicz's third directorial effort. The underlying writing credits are rather fascinating, as the script was based on a story (by Marvin Borowsky) adapted by W. Somerset Maugham and Lee Strasberg. Mankiewicz is known for his sharp dialogue -- think A LETTER TO THREE WIVES and ALL ABOUT EVE -- and while this film has some gems, at times it gets way too chatty for its own good, clocking in at a somewhat slow-paced hour and 48 minutes.
As the title suggests, the film is chiefly set at night, and the gleaming black and white photography was by Norbert Brodine.
SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT is available in a fine print on DVD as No. 8 in the Fox Film Noir series. The extras are a trailer and a commentary by noir expert Eddie Muller.
It's also shown occasionally on Fox Movie Channel.