A woman secretly suffering from kleptomania is hypnotized in an effort to cure her condition. Soon afterwards, she is found at the scene of a murder with no memory of how she got there and seemingly no way to prove her innocence.
A restrained but moody, interesting rather than dynamic, film noir
Somewhere in the Night (1948)
This has all the gloomy, alienating, nighttime elements of the best film noirs, and it's smack in the central Post War best of it. It even has a director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, known for handling dramatic, emotional situations with both delicacy and power. And it all pays off. Somewhere in the Night follows a man just out of the army suffering amnesia, and he encounters a sordid past of crime he didn't know he had anything to do with.
The dilemma of American soldiers coming home changed men, and to a home country so changed it was like a foreign country, is the crux of most noir films, and this one plays into it straighter than most. The twist of true amnesia only makes the crisis of George Taylor more stark. The role is played with subtlety, and some stiffness, by John Hodiak, I think because he is meant to be eternally confused by events (since he remembers nothing) and yet can't show his confusion, so he draws up a blank face. Mankiewicz works this inner problem out on the screen well, though choosing to keep the camera at a distance, as if filming a play sometimes, not a recommended film noir method for style, but it does emphasize the psychology more discretely.
The camera-work is stiff, too, as if constrained as much as Taylor is in his amnesia. You won't see many sharp angles up or down, no tilted (dutch angle) frames, little moving camera, and little of the easiest of 1940s camera effects, extreme close ups. All of this makes for a dry look, and for my money, with a plot this sensational, a dull one. This cinematography, by Norbert Brodine sets the tone for the whole movie, and I assume it is at Mankiewicz's request, and it just doesn't compare well to other noirs, to Orson Welles, or to any number of Warner gangster films with similar shadowy subjects. Maybe the most extreme example of this is the long dialog over the crystal ball, where the camera just sits and watches.
The lighting and the sets, in general, are dynamic, however, and the acting generally solid. And it has all the hallmarks (not quite clichés) of the genre--thugs at the bar, a nightclub singer with a big heart, a good guy who turns out to be a bad guy, and a cop who is clever and peripheral, like a sentry always ready. The movie is, truly, interesting, and doesn't let up as you have to figure out the puzzle of who did what and why. It won't sweep you off your feet or blow you away, but it will be worth settling quietly into.
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