Appealing mystery tells the story of a World War II vet (John Hodiak) who suffers a terrible injury somewhere in the Pacific theater of operations, gains a new, surgically reconstructed face and loses his memory. Will he, somewhere in the night, find out who he really is?
Okay, let me amend and adjust that endorsement. I didn't recognize John Hodiak at all, although author Eddie Muller tells us he was a fairly well established star in the mid-40s on Muller's entertaining and informative commentary track. A quick internet search of his name disgorged a number of movies I've seen that Hodiak has been in, including a couple I like a lot. Hodiak plays a weary soldier in the good Battle of the Bulge movie `Battleground,' and he's one of the washed aboard survivors in Alfred Hitchcock's `Lifeboat.' Hodiak, about 30 when SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT was made was square shouldered, jut jawed, and seemed to favor a trim Clark Gable moustache. In appearance he was something of a cross between Don Ameche and Martin Landau, I guess, with a voice that reminded me of George Raft. I'm writing this in detail because, if this is Hodiak laying it out as a lead star, I'm certain to disremember him the next time around. SITN is future Oscar-winning director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's first feature, so maybe that explains why he allowed his male lead to play it so... tense for the duration. It doesn't help much that Mankiewicz cast 19-year-old newcomer Nancy Guild opposite Hodiak as the female lead. Hodiak, stiff as shoe leather, doesn't have nearly enough in his own cache of charisma to wipe the deer-in-the-headlights look off Guild's face, much less pump a cubic ounce of air into a scene. Confirming a couple of mistily formed suspicions, Muller tells us Guild was hired by Fox to be their Lauren Bacall. Doe-eyed sultresses were big back then, at least Bacall was, and Guild was certainly pretty enough to roll the dice on. Unfortunately she's more animated in her publicity stills than she is when the cameras are rolling, the shadows looming and the cigarette smoke curling. Guild's scenes alone with Hodiak are about as exciting as watching two people read a telephone directory to each other.
The leads are pretty awful and the plot, after the army medic unwraps the bandages from Hodiak's reconstructed face, is serpentine and confusing as heck. But the dialogue is snappy, Mankiewicz was a great writer, and the supporting cast is simply wonderful. Austrian actor Fritz Kortner plays an unscrupulous fortune-teller named Anzelmo and steals every scene he's in. Of course, he's not in any scenes with Lloyd Nolan, who plays a wise-cracking police detective and steals every scene he's in. Throw the always reliable Richard Conte into the mix as a night club owner, plus Harry Morgan, Margo Woode (if Conte and Woode had been cast in the leads this one would have been a certified classic,) Sheldon Leonard, et alia, and you have an incredibly strong and entertaining line-up. If SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT succeeds, and it does, it's because of the great script and over-competent supporting cast. Hodiak is stiff and a little detached, while poor Nancy Guild... well, as Muller says somewhere, she does try awfully hard. The plot's impossible to follow, the dialogue sparkles, and Kortner, Nolan, Conte, and the rest more than make up for the weak leads. A reasonably strong recommendation for this enjoyable flick.