Somewhere in the Night [50 Films Older Than Me #31]

A while ago, it was my birthday! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of the fifty years before I was born, and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #31.

Spoilers ahead.  

Somewhere in the Night

Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz

Release Year:  1946 (24 years before I was born).

What it is about:  After recovering from a severe injury during World War II, George Taylor finds he has lost all of his memory. Tracking down clues to his background, he discovers he may have been involved in a plot involving stolen Nazi gold and murder. Befriending him in his effort to discover the truth is lounge singer Christy Smith, who is also connected to Taylor’s past.

Starring John Hodiak as as George Taylor, Nancy Guild as Christy Smith, Richard Conte as the club owner where Christy works, Lloyd Nolan as a police officer, and Fritz Kortner and Josephine Hutchinson as two of the suspicious characters Taylor runs into in his quest.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I didn’t know anything about it except that what I read in preparation for this series–that it is a film noir and that it was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. But then I was confused about who Joseph Mankiewicz was–I thought he was one of the guys who had something to do with Citizen Kane. But it turns out that was his older brother Herman! Joseph is the father of Tom Mankiewicz, though–the so-called “Creative Consultant” who helped to write a lot of Richard Donner’s Superman the Movie.

Reality: Somewhere in the Night fits pretty comfortably into the genre called film noir, which means that it is filled with morally ambiguous characters, black and white cinematography with low-key lighting, and a certain level of brutality to its storytelling. (Actually, defining precisely what constitutes film noir is a bit more troublesome of a project, partly since the genre wasn’t identified as such until well after its heyday). But it lacks punch compared to some of the classics of the style, which makes it ultimately a bit forgettable. And of course, that is ironic since the movie is all about a guy who has lost his memory.

As the movie got going, I was pretty hopeful. George Taylor is a badly injured World War II soldier who only knows his name because people keep calling him by it. Otherwise, his whole life is a blank, and his injuries prevent him from making any inquiries about himself. By the time he has recovered, he has found an angry letter, written to himself, which is full of spite and venom. Frightened about who he is, he keeps his amnesia a secret and starts to investigate his own past.

The movie has got a an even, methodical pace, as it shows George running into all manner of shady characters. The problems pile up with a sort of relentless monotony, never really speeding up or slowing down, which makes it hard to keep track of. As a result, all the scenes sort of blur together, whether they are about people trying to kill George, people try to help George, or people trying to love George. And so much of the action is about trying to track down a guy called Larry Cravat, whom everybody is after but nobody has actually seen. With decades of mystery stories behind us it’s not hard to guess (at least, eventually) where Larry might be found. The actual reveal about George Taylor’s true identity is pretty well done (he got his name from the fact that Larry Cravat actually had a tailor named George) but it doesn’t bring any real surprise with it.

That could have still been okay if the movie had gripped us with story that really made an impact. I feel like it had two big chances to do this, but didn’t come through on either one.

First, it could have really dug into the existential dread that George would be experiencing. After all, he comes to the conclusion that he is in all likelihood a thief and a murderer. How does a guy handle that? It’s talked about a fair but but George as a character never really goes anywhere with it. He remains the same sullen, moody guy he’s been the whole time. For whatever reason, lounge singer Christy Smith has fallen for him anyway. She can’t believe he’s a murderer and ultimately neither do we–not because he’s too good but because the film is not willing to go anywhere that dark. And in the end, the movie goes for the happy ending, with George innocent and happily in love.

But that could have been okay too–indeed, I like happy endings. But to make the journey satisfying, we needed to see George become resourceful and clever, and find an intelligent way to outwit his opponents. And again there is lip-service to this idea but really all George does is lead the true bad guy to where he knew the police were hanging about, leading to a perfunctory and unsatisfying climax. Like the previous point, it’s just too easy to be genuinely great.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? Somewhere in the Night is not a bad movie–the visuals are good and everyone is doing their best. But even though there is an intriguing premise and decent plot ideas, the story itself ends up on the bland side, and thus the film itself is a bit unremarkable, especially when compared to the many better noirs that are out there.

See here for the Master List.

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