I'll be watching a few noir films in the near future, and I thought this would be a great place to keep a journal of all the noir films that the members here watch and review. I'm innaugurating this with Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Somewhere in the Night. I'll include grades with each film reviewed.
The Big Heat (1953)
Blade Runner (1982)
The Dark Corner (1946)
Fallen Angel (1945)
House of Strangers (1949)
House on 92nd Street(1945)
House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
I Wake Up Screaming
Kiss of Death (1947)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The Seventh Victim (1943)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
White Heat (1949)
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Somewhere in the Night (1946) - Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Well in my years of watching movies I've seen a lot of Mankiewicz and a lot of noir. Some films are inspired, some are mediocre, and some are just plain bad. In the case of Something In the Night I remembered why I watch movies, to discover that one magnificent film in a completely unexpected place. I've been extremely hard on film noir in my time, rarely if ever handing out a perfect rating despite obvious greatness, I've been even harsher for Mankiewicz, I wouldn't even give All About Eve a 5 star rating. This film, considered a lesser Mankiewicz effort, and one of his earlier ventures into directing is in my opinion his clear masterpiece. A perfectly constructed, often brilliant, constantly compelling piece of film noir that desperately needs reevaluation, and the reputation of such gems as Laura, Double Indemnity, and Out of the Past.
Somewhere in the Night may have that chance. It recently appeared on DVD as part of Fox's amazing film noir collection. Every several months the studio puts out three of their classic noir films, and many of which, this film included, I had never heard of prior to it's release. Gems are being unearthed from the vaults, some of which hadn't even appeared on VHS. Watching Somewhere in the Night is like discovering a new piece of film history, a critical turning point in the career of Mankiewicz, and a complex and convoluted story that has a deeply satisfying pay off.
The reason for perhaps its being forgotten is the fact that the story seemed familiar at the time. There was a period when amnesia films were somewhat popular, and Somewhere deals with post war veterans, a subject that by 1946 was already starting to become overly familiar. I recall a short story by Ernest Hemmingway about a returning WWI veteran who took an extra two years to come home, which by that time no one wanted to hear his war stories, everyone was bored of "heroes". The American public may have felt the same way, after all what an easy gimmick, a grenade goes off, and bam amnesia, and there's your mystery. It's denser than that.
John Hodiak was nearly a bad choice for this role. His credits are sparse, he was one of the shipwrecked passengers in Lifeboat, but he works here. His one chance in a feature, and he shines. Makeup makes the film work. He was blown up by a grenade, and had a painful recovery. His face loses the bandage, but he comes equipped with an oh so subtle scar that makes him neither grotesque but reminds us that he was indeed a disabled veteran. This slight touch of realism works for the picture, in a world were people are still knocked out by one punch.
Richard Conte, a man who seemed to be in every Fox film in the 40's and 50's makes an appearance here, and delivers another perfect turn. He has that quality where he can both be a baffoon and a genius at the same time. A tough edge and a likeable quality if not somewhat flawed. He played this well in Jules Dassin's Thieves Highway, and shines here at his best, in a supporting role.
The love interest, as there must always be a love interest is Nancy Guild who has an instantly recognizable face despite never appearing in a movie I've seen. She has a look that works, and you can see rather early on that she is a girl to fall for, and her presence is neither as the "helpless girl" or the "tough dame". She is a real woman, a rare presence indeed in film noir, neither manipulative or gullible. I love her character, as I love nearly all other aspects of the film.
The mystery is one of identity. A similar theme was brought back in the Bourne Identity, but here was a man who didn't work for the government, but rather stole from them, or someone. A missing $2 million is enough to motivate any plot, especially when army pay at the time was $60 a month. You can see why everyone is going to such great lengths in this story for the money, and the identity of Larry Cravat, a man no one has either met nor heard from in 3 years. George Taylor is also a man with no past and no one to identify him, and his search for Cravat becomes his search for himself. A wonderful plot device that helps to unravell the story, and of course lead to much suspense, mystery, and intrigue.
I've ranted much longer on this film than most characteristic recently viewed movies, but I can't help it, I rarely feel this elation watching movies, especially American movies from the 40's considering I was convinced I saw everything great from Hollywood's golden era. Somewhere in the Night is out of DVD, and it's dirt cheap, buy it now!