A man with no memory searches for his past, blundering through a dark labyrinth that is the city of Los Angeles. The film is Somewhere in the Night (1946), and the man, George Taylor (John Hodiak), has had his identity wiped clean by an exploding shell in the South Pacific. Released from the hospital, he follows a few clues into a tangled web of unsolved murder and a missing $2 million. But while others scramble after the loot, he simply wants to know who he is, to be released from the utter solitude of a world in which everyone is a stranger.
About halfway through the movie, George follows a lead to a house at 512 W. Second Street on Bunker Hill, where he hopes to find a witness to a killing he may or may not have committed. He parks on a steeply sloping street below an elegant but forlorn-looking Victorian house. When he knocks, the ghostly face of a woman appears behind a lace-veiled window. Surprisingly, she does not hesitate to invite a strange man into her home at night. The parlor she leads him into is stranded in another century: antique chairs and clocks, densely patterned wallpaper and carpet, china figurines on the mantel, and doilies everywhere. The woman, Elizabeth (Josephine Hutchinson), wears a lace collar fastened with a cameo pin; she is pale, middle-aged, with a face like a faded paper flower. And she is the first person George has met who seems to remember him, though she admits that in the darkness at the door she almost didn’t know him.
As this strange, sad, poetic little scene unfolds, Elizabeth talks about memory and forgetting, loneliness and dreams, the quiet agony of a lifeless life. “Things change, don’t they?” she says with a bitter little twist of the mouth. “But time doesn’t change. It goes on and on and doesn’t change. I know. I’ve watched it. The nights, days, nights, days, they’re always the same. Dawns are always gray, and days can have different colors. But the nights are all black, and they’re empty.” In the end, Elizabeth reveals that she lied about knowing George, making believe that he was a long-lost friend or lover—little suspecting that he would believe her. Up to this point in the film, George has been a gruff, angry cipher, consumed by his own dilemma. But this pitiful woman awakes his sensitivity and kindness; confessing that he too is lonely, he embraces her for a moment in the fussy, gloomy mausoleum of a parlor. She gives him a lead in the mystery of the long-ago murder, but more importantly, it is here that he first finds a piece of himself.
Old Town, Lost Town
Room Tone 2023
Look back on the collaborations that defined our year, captured in this compilation of moments that our crew shared with the artists, critics, and scholars who talked with us about the movies.
For the Love of the Con
The best movies about con artists highlight something their makers share with the fraudsters they depict: an intuitive sense of people’s desires and a talent for ruthless manipulation.
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