“The Locket”: An Intriguing New DVD

I was going to review a couple movies for this new entry, but having seen “The Locket,” I decided there was more than enough to write about with this one movie. Not to be confused with another “Locket” of the same name, this 1946 noir thriller has one of the most deliciously complicated plot structures I have seen in a long time. For those familiar with this genre, you’ll know that flashbacks are not unusual as a means of storytelling (check out, for instance, “Out of the Past” or “Mildred Pierce,” movies made around the same time). But “The Locket” takes this device and raises it to new heights.

It begins with a wedding which is about to take place at the house of a wealthy family. We see the bride and groom, and just before the ceremony is to begin, a stranger summons the groom for a private conversation about the woman the latter is about to marry. The news from the stranger is not good—in fact, it’s downright disturbing.  Naturally, the groom is suspicious—who is this guy barging into my house?—but soon finds out that the stranger does know something about the bride. He tells his story, and thus begins the first of three flashbacks, each one inside the previous one, as if each story is a box with a smaller one inside it. This structure works in tandem with the psychological aspect of the film, in which the main character, Nancy (played by Lorraine Day), who had a traumatic experience as a child, is covering up this trauma and its aftereffects for the sake of her relationship with three different men. Robert Mitchum is outstanding as an artist who falls for Day, and it’s fascinating to watch his transformation from bohemian painter to someone who’ll hobnob with the wealthy in order to sell his work. Brian Aherne is also great as the somewhat haughty, but well-intentioned Dr. Blair. And of course Day carries the movie as the girl who lost her locket.

“The Locket” pulls us in by its deft use of flashback to keep us guessing about what will happen next, and in the same way, it ends without compromising what has been told up till then. The final scenes give us answers but also questions, questions that the viewer will have to provide for himself—a certain amount of open-endedness that I found immensely satisfying.  And while its psychological underpinnings are certainly speculative at best, it also presents us with a world of uncertainty, in which the narrators pass on a chain of information that the viewer must be willing to believe in order for the story to continue to be believed. Without getting too philosophical about it all (for more of that, see this article, for which I am indebted for the previous statement), I want to recommend “The Locket” for its rich visual look, its complex plotting involving a femme fatale, and its economy of storytelling that packs so much in a mere 86 minutes of film.

 

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