Somewhere in the Night : Paint by Numbers Noir

Mar 21, 2009 (Updated Mar 21, 2009)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Supporting cast, Eddie Muller commentary

Cons:Convoluted plot, talky, s-l-o-w, no action

The Bottom Line: Paint by numbers exposition of film noir by Joseph L Mankiewicz. Only for noir completists

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

Somewhere in the Night is one of several movies released by Fox under their Film Noir Collection. 

This movie stars John Hodiak as a wounded marine who awakens with amnesia with no identity and only a couple of clues of where he needs to go to return to his life post WWII.  While this idea is presented from the outset and is quite unsettling to watch at first, it soon overstayed its welcome due to John Hodiak's wooden performance and the paint by numbers plot development.   True, the plot has more than enough convolutions but Hodiak's long search for his identity soon becomes tedious and the many false twists and turns provided by newly minted director Joseph L Mankiewicz's screenplay and direction do not give the movie sufficient get up and go to start moving under its own power. 

Lots of the development comes right out of left field.  For example why did Nancy Guild immediately fall in love with Hodiak (?) - and other pertinent questions can occur to you but the film never offers a rationale for any of the plot developments.  Hodiak also comes out of his amnesia in the middle of one scene switching from one state to the other between two sentences. How did that happen?  These are never explained by the film though, just are convenient coincidences.  The developments are part of the noir universe but this movie more than most relies on the convenient coincidence a little too often.

There are lots of scenes leading up to the big scene showing amnesiac Hodiak finally meeting with the motley cabal of his opponents - reminiscent of the Maltese Falcon's Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cooke, Jr. But that encounter is frankly underwhelming. These characters, while a somewhat interesting gang of thieves, pale by comparison with their obvious precursors.

Part of the difficulty is that the movie is excessively talky; it tells you, over and over, like a book rather than using its strength as a visual medium to show you. Lloyd Nolan gives a decent verbal plot recap right in the middle of a scene in a restaurant but the movie should have showed that stuff in keeping with its visual strength.

Then again with leading man Hodiak and his leading lady Nancy Guild it's just hard to maintain viewer interest as neither one shows much charisma and the line readings sound like a recitation of a separate series of single lines rather than an integral, spontaneous conversation.  I'm sure this was intended to be snappy back and forth banter like Bogart and Bacall but the chemistry never began to sizzle.

The best part of Somewhere in the Night are the supporting performances with noir pillars Richard Conte and Lloyd Nolan, who both add plenty with their short appearances and familiar faces Whit Bissell, Jeff Corey, and Harry Morgan, who each appeared many times in movies and television. These players and several other bit players add some color to what is too often a colorless experience despite the highly picturesque dark cinematography of photographer Norbert Brodine showing many places - nightclubs, apartments, piers, a sanitarium, and other locations.  

Somewhere in the Night is worthwhile for noir-o-philes to play spot the cliché or homage, as it is called.

The Fox DVD is presented in full screen black and white in pristine condition, but running an overlong 110 minutes.  The best feature in the DVD package is a full length commentary by film historian Eddie Muller who points out a lot of film history, some humor, and a few incongruities, too. 

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