Somewhere in the Night
Amnesia is a staple of mystery films, from Memento to The Bourne Identity, but it hasn't always been that way. One of , if not the, first, movies to use memory loss as the spark plug for a twisting plot was 1946's Somewhere in the Night, released on DVD as part of the "Fox Film Noir" series. And this now-commonplace trope isn't the only thing about Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film that might seem passé now, but was certainly fresh when the picture was released. The soul of film noir emerged from the aftermath of World War II, as Americans struggled to come to terms with the horrors witnessed in that conflict. Somewhere in the Night captures this mood nicely in an opening scene set in an Army hospital somewhere in the Pacific, where wounded George Taylor (John Hodiak) lies on a cot, his memory as blank a slate as his bandaged face. With his jaw wired shut, he can't explain his predicament, and once he finds a bitter note in his wallet (which lacks all other I.D.), he decides to stay mum and get to the bottom of things himself. It's a patently absurd set-up, but suspension of disbelief pays off in a labyrinthine, atmospheric tale which unfolds once Taylor returns to Los Angeles. His only clue is the name Larry Cravat, and as Taylor tries to track this mysterious figure down, he comes into contact with a host of ubiquitous noir presences, including Richard Conte, Lloyd Nolan (as a cop, of course), Whit Bisell, and Jeff Corey. Half the fun of Somewhere in the Night comes in trying to place the familiar faces that keep popping up. (Another of them is Harry Morgan of "Dragnet" and M*A*S*H fame as a steam-bath attendant.) The other half of the fun comes in watching Taylor solve this mystery of identity, even though it's not too difficult to remain a step or two ahead of him as events unfold. Ending up on the trail of $2 million in Nazi cash, Taylor also ends up in the company of Christy Smith, played by 19-year-old Fox discovery Nancy Guild, a highly touted newcomer who made a grand total of seven other films. The film is sparked by sharp dialogue in the Mankiewicz vein, such as this exchange between two catty females: "I get it." "If it's going around, you probably will." Fox's DVD release of Somewhere in the Night features a solid full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) from a good, watchable source print, with the original monaural audio n a DD 2.0 track. The disc includes a commentary by noir specialist Eddie Muller, which mostly consists of him pointing out the many genre tropes and expectations the film confirms. There's an interesting anecdote about how this movie became the only writing credit in the career of legendary acting teacher Lee Strasberg, and explanations of the many in-jokes Mankiewicz scattered throughout, but after a while there's only so much to say about a picture that so thoroughly, if ably, mirrors our expectation of what a film noir is, right down to Hodiak's creepy little moustache. Keep-case.