Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Somewhere in the Night (1946)

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: " enjoy his apparently effortless skill at creating a character, providing exposition and giving a realistic texture to an otherwise bland, clich├ęd 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.

May 2019 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see this film in 35mm at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I agree about Lloyd Nolan. Yours, and Moira's, observations are right on the mark. An actor so real, and so compelling to watch. Yet he makes it seem so simple. A knack for achieving intimacy with the audience, I suppose.

5:45 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

I'd have to watch this one again to reassess it properly, but I remember feeling a little underwhelmed overall - although I agree Lloyd Nolan is first class.

I don't know if you've seen it or not but you ought to give The Crooked Way a go. It offers another, possibly more successful, spin on what's basically the same story.


6:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you both for adding your comments!

Colin, I just recorded THE CROOKED WAY recently during a TCM evening of Payne films. I'm going to pull that tape -- I see the leading lady is Ellen Drew, someone I also enjoy.

Thanks for the tip!

There are a number of Lloyd Nolan films I'd like to see, too, like ISLAND IN THE SKY, THE LEMON DROP KID, and THE LAST HUNT. I recently picked up GIRL OF THE NIGHT from Warner Archive because he stars off Anne Francis, in what she considered her best role. There are so many movies I'd love to watch "next," but I guess that's a good "problem" for a film fan to have. :)

Best wishes,

10:24 AM  
Blogger addie said...

I like your assesment of Guild, she is not too great, but I liked her a lot anyway, for some reason.
Sheldon Leonard should be in every movie!
Richard Conte was his charming self, but he might have been better used in the lead. Not that Hodiak was not marvelous. Conte is just too good to use as (without giving anything up), a, simply, nice guy, for the most part.
Searching a dark past fits him better. I love Hodiak, I just thought Conte was wasted.
Lloyd Nolan is always so wonderful.
When I watch him, in those mostly, "B" movies of his, I wish he had been over at Warners, where they appreciated versitale tough guys, that were not so pretty. Not that is not very attractive. B)

10:50 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

Seeing as you mentioned those Nolan movies you haven't seen, I want to take the opportunity to give a big thumbs up to The Last Hunt.
Richard Brooks directs beautifully, Stewart Granger and Nolan are on top form, and Robert Taylor is as mean as I've ever seen. It's a really great film that's been shamefully neglected.


12:33 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I'm with Livius, when you mentioned Lloyd Nolan, I thought of The Last Hunt. Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger are also very good in this film.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Addie, I was interesting to hear from someone else who enjoyed Guild even though she's not especially good. :)

Colin and Panavia, thanks so much for your strong recommendations of THE LAST HUNT. Taylor and Granger are two of my favorite actors, so Nolan being in it is the icing on the proverbial cake. It's definitely on my viewing wish list! I've been looking over my movie list trying to choose what to watch this weekend -- what wonderful options there are!!

Best wishes,

5:25 PM  

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