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Somewhere in the Night (DVD, 2005)
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A shellshocked amnesiac stirs up big trouble in a City of Night
Mar 19, 2008
Review by Stephen Murray
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:commentary track, supporting players, music, cinematography
Cons:impenetrable plot, charisma-lacking leads
The Bottom Line: After attentive-watching I wish was able to spoil the plot (not that I'd do it, but I'd like to be able to make sense of it_all!).
The "Somewhere in the Night," writer/producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz's second directorial effort (the gothic "Dragonwyck" was his first) is an opaque thriller, showing very shaky return to civilian life by an army veteran who lost his memory along with suffering physical injuries from a grenade in the battle for Okinawa.
Recommend this product?
At the start of the movie, the eyes of John Hodiak look out from a bandaged face at a military hospital as voice-over narration (by John Ireland) wonders who George Taylor is. That seems to be his name. His wallet holds a hate letter. When he is demobilized, George learns what his address was in LA. Then a claim check leads him into a tangle of plots and subplots involving a murder, one or more disappearances, and two million dollars shipped out of German by some senior Nazi. And maybe to a former amour played by Josephine Hutchinson (North by Northwest) who is either the wife or daughter of Michael Conroy (Houseley Stevenson) who was nearly killed on the night of the murder three years earlier and who has been in an insane asylum since then.
There is also a crystal-ball reader, Dr. Oracle (Fritz Kortner), a cocktail-lounge singer-pianist, Christy Smith (Nancy Guild, who Daryl Zanuck was seeking to make a star), and her employer, Mel Phillips, played by Richard Conte (who later appeared in Mankiewicz's , and in the noir classic "Big Combo" and in "The Godfather"). And, taking a break from playing FBI agents, Lloyd Nolan plays an LAPD lieutenant (Kendall) who gets the last laugh (not that there have been that many along the way, but his final line ties up at least one of the many loose ends). And Henry Morgan as a sour bathhouse attendant.
Hodiak and Guild did not become a memorable screen couple. It appears that they were supposed to be Fox's "answer" to Bogart and Bacall. As a man with enemies and who is wanted by the law, Hodiak's position is akin to that of Bogart in "Dark Passage," and he is saved by Guild as Bogart was by Bacall in that delirious San Francisco noir. Bogart and Bacall had chemistry; Hodiak and Guild didn't. Moreover, neither of them is very interesting in scenes with others, as much effort as was devoted to putting the audience into George's wracking his brain in which all the file drawers are empty.
There are some good lines, though Mankiewicz was only warming up on the road to "All About Eve" and "The Honey Pot." Mankiewicz is not often thought of as a major maker of noirs, though "No Way Out" (with Sydney Poitier and Richard Widmark) is an excellent one, and the Mankiewicz adaptation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American has a great noir look and Saigon is a nightmarish city in it. Plus the mafioso King Lear Mankiewicz made "House of Strangers" with Edward G. Robinson... and Richard Conte, and the sinister thriller "Five Fingers" (also shot by Norbert Brodine with music by Bernard Hermann).
(Like Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder, Mankiewicz (1909-1993) made great films in a wide range of genres. Like Wilder (unlike Hawks who got great dialogue from others) Mankiewicz wrote great dialogue. Like Hawks (unlike Wilder), Mankiewicz made an interesting western, There Was a Crooked Man. Etc.)
"Somewhere" has an excellent femme fatale in Margo Woode (Hell-Bound), as the French-spouting Phyllis. Would that she had more screen time, Guild (and Hodiak!) less.
Hodiak, whose ancestry was Ukranian, was better in ensembles, as in "Lifeboat" and "Battleground," though I remember him best in "A Bell for Adano." He was married to Anne Baxter, who would play Eve in Mankiewicz's "All About Eve."
The movie has an effective musical score written by David Buttolph (Rope,.Kiss of Death, This Gun for Hire) and was shot by a master of noir cinematography, Norbert Brodine (Kiss of Death, The House on 92nd Street, Thieves' Highway, Five Fingers).
The DVD includes include the original theatrical trailer, plus those for three other Fox film noir releases, "The Street With No Name" (with Nolan), "Where the Sidewalk Ends," and Mankiewicz's "No Way Out." Noir expert Eddie Muller provides commentary that is more entertaining than the movie (not least in frankly admitting that he cannot explain the plot/s--recalling Raymond Chandler's inability to tell Howard Hawks who committed one of the murders in The Big Sleep--another Bogart & Bacall classic, the plot of which seems simple in comparison to that in "Somewhere in the Night").
As with other Fox Noir DVDs, the sound and picture (and commentary track) are very good. A lot of the movie occurs during the day, though the last third is nocturnal, with Norbert Brodine providing the full, deep noir look (especially under a pier).
© 2008, Stephen O. Murray
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