Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Noir Watch: The Locket (1946) - recommended
Format: Noir Alley on DVR
The Locket (1946) gets name dropped a lot in noir circles, but not always with a lot of context. It starred no particular favorites aside from Mitchum, and didn't happen to cross my path til it aired on Noir Alley, so I'd not made a tremendous effort to watch it. Turns out, The Locket is a hell of a movie with some terrific qualities, from the performances to the direction and cinematography, but it starts with a story and script that - while maybe a bit rudimentary in applying psychology as a science (a common trope of this era) - tells a unique, engaging, tragic story via unconventional techniques - and puts a new spin on the "femme fatale" (if that's accurate here, and I'll say it is) that's fascinating to watch unfold.
This isn't a noir full of detectives and toughs - and I'm sure some who are looking for Philip Marlowe in every noir would balk at the idea The Locket even fits the category. We'll claim it, though, and move on.
Starring Laraine Day (no, you've never heard of her) as a blushing bride-to-be, just about to marry into a wealthy and prominent New York family, the film also has Brian Aherne as a psychologist who appears at the pre-wedding celebration and begins to spin a tale for Day's fiance. One that he promises includes murder and tragedy.
Here begins one of the wilder conceits of the film - that it's layered flashbacks - with characters telling one another of meeting Day and what they think the addressee should know. Aherne's psychologist meets Robert Mitchum who shares his own tragic history with Day, which, of course, Aherne finds suspicious.
What's astounding about Day's performance is that she must have mastered the war-era, chipper female to perfection, and here she uses it as a sort of blank mask. She's bright, cheerful, willing to help - but they may also all be a facade - or it might not... It's impossible to know what's really going on with her. She's given her own flashbacks to recount, but she's also given pitch perfect dialog, giving all the right answers, expertly deflecting any line of questioning.
According to Noir Alley's Eddie Muller, the real credit for the screenplay should go to Norma Barzman, who went uncredited for unknown reasons. She had few other writing credits, so I'm not about to guess what occurred. In a way, I'm grateful that she seemed to not know the tricks of the trade, because the story and structure of The Locket is genuinely fresh, and Day's character, Nancy, seems ahead of her time by several years - and I'm sure inspired imitators.
Also tip of the hat to director John Brahm who took what could have been a hopelessly grinding parade of nested doll sequences and made lemonade, while also capturing some stunning visuals by DP Nicholas Musuraca. The movie is just gorgeous, understands shadows and depth and how to frame a sequence. A lot of love went into this film.
I'm definitely recommending The Locket. I can't really think of anything about it I didn't like - especially Mitchum's sport coats.