Life and Death in L.A.: The Man From Nowhere: Who is Larry Cravat and why do so many people want to do him harm?

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Man From Nowhere: Who is Larry Cravat and why do so many people want to do him harm?

John Hodiak, Nancy Guild, "Somewhere in the Night" (1946).

Battle Fatigue on the Homefront:
Two views of life after the big one

By Paul Parcellin

Somewhere in the Night” (1946)

George Taylor (John Hodiak) awakens in a military hospital, and to his horror discovers that his memory has been wiped clean by a serious wound he received in the war. He can’t remember his name or anything of his past, but he hides his amnesia from the doctors to prevent them from holding him longer. After his bodily scars heal, he’s resolved to discover who he really is. 

Shell shocked returning veterans like George are often seen in noir. Characters such as Gerard (Dick Powell) in “Cornered” (1945) and the unforgettable Buzz (William Bendix) in “The Blue Dahlia,” with a steel plate implanted in his skull and tormented to the brink of insanity by “monkey music.” Both walk down hostile streets, vulnerable, filled with rage and terribly lost. 

Like his war damaged brethren, George embarks on a mission, believing he may fill the black hole that has replaced his memories. Back in civilian life, he searches for leads but there’s scant information to go on. A note from an anonymous person wishing him the worst of luck because he committed an unforgivable deed, and a letter from a man he doesn’t know, Larry Cravat, is all that he’s able to find.

Right away we notice that he has an intuitive ability to analyze clues, which is itself a hint about his ilife before the war. His quest begins in Los Angeles, his hometown — he wouldn’t have known that if the discharge officer hadn’t mentioned it. 

As the story unfolds, we’re left to ponder two equally mysterious men, Larry Cravat, whom we haven’t met, and George, who will lead us on a circuitous journey that is his quest. George sports the pencil thin mustache of a slick operator, and nearly everyone he encounters in his hunt for the truth lives a fast life, mostly on the wrong side of the law. 

Some might imagine that he’s been handed the opportunity of a lifetime, especially for someone with a sketchy past. This could be his chance to reinvent himself and start anew. But his blank slate of a life holds no appeal to George; it’s more like a nightmare from which he can never wake up.

It’s not until he encounters an older woman who reflects on her own isolated, lonely existence that George's existential crisis comes into focus. Few are as cut off from society as those with no history or ties to others. He’s not marooned on an uninhabited desert isle, but he may as well be. Worse still, danger can come from any direction, and he’s never sure who he can trust.

Once we see that desperation and terror are what drives him forward, it’s easier to understand why he takes the kinds of risks that he does. Most of us would go to the authorities for help if we were in George’s position, but he soon realizes that his pre-war activities make that impossible.

In Los Angeles he runs into some tough guys who want to know why he’s looking for the elusive Larry Cravat and are willing to pull a trigger to get rid of him.

The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place when he discovers that a small fortune in cash is up for grabs and members of the underworld are eager to grab it. But most of all, the gangsters want to find the mystery man, Larry Cravat, and so does George. He finally does, and it’s an encounter that he could hardly have anticipated.

Hodiak’s Noir Films

John Hodiak was featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” (1944) opposite Tallulah Bankhead. Fox gave him his starring role in “Somewhere in the Night,” and he acted with Lucille Ball in MGM’s “Two Smart People” (1946). He appeared with George Murphy and Frances Gifford in “The Arnelo Affair” (1947), and Paramount’s “Desert Fury” (1947) with Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott. He played a supporting role in “The Bribe” (1949) and co-starred with Hedy Lamarr in “A Lady Without Passport” (1950).

Co-star Nancy Guild also appeared in “The Brasher Doubloon” (1947).

“Somewhere in the Night” director Joseph Mankiewicz wrote “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934), and wrote and directed “No Way Out” (1950), which launched the career of Sidney Poitier. He’s probably best known for directing “All About Eve” (1950) with Bette Davis.

His last film under contract with Fox was “5 Fingers” (1952), starring James Mason and Danielle Darrieux.

Barry Sullivan, Loretta Young, "Cause for Alarm!" (1951).

Cause for Alarm!” (1951)

From the outside, everything looks chipper in Ellen and George Jones’s marriage, but for them, post-war domesticity is anything but blissful.  

Ellen (Loretta Young) and George (Barry Sullivan) meet during the war. She’s a nurse at a naval hospital and George is a pilot. Ellen has an amicable split with the physician she’s been dating, Dr. Ranney Grahame (Bruce Cowling), and takes up with George, who happens to be Ranney’s buddy. After the war, George and Ellen marry and settle down in the quiet of the suburbs. George, it turns out, is a brash lout whom Ellen can never seem to please. She endures a mountain of abuse from this narcissistic manipulator who never fails to play the victim.

“Nothing a woman likes better than shoving a man around,” he mutters at one point, although it’s clear that in his marriage, George is the one doing the shoving.

Later, he relates a telling story: As a boy, another youngster tried to take a toy ship he’d painstakingly built. He brutally assaulted the boy in retribution, and as punishment his mother made him give the toy to the battered youth. Despite the many hours it took to craft the ship, George intentionally dropped it on the ground and let it shatter.

It’s painfully obvious that Ellen will end up like that boat should she ever decide to leave him, although that seems unlikely. Despite George's rotten treatment of her, Ellen is devoted to him and is an apologist for his bad behavior.

But matters get worse when he shares with Ellen his paranoid delusion that she and Ranney are secretly involved and are planning to do him in.

A chain of events causes Ellen to rush madly across the city in an attempt to intercept a letter that George dropped into the post. In it, he fabricated evidence that could put Ellen in prison for life. The film’s last act is filled with near misses and constantly worsening complications. A nosey neighbor, her insistent mother-in-law and a child on a tricycle conspire to scuttle her quest to retrieve the all-important envelope from the rigid U.S. Postal Service. 

Despite its suburban setting, “Cause for Alarm!” shows us that  tree-lined residential streets can present a deceptively placid facade that masks what’s really happening behind the scenes. And it may be every bit as threatening as the mean streets of the big, bad city.

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