The Locket

Ask any movie fan to compile a list of film noir characteristics and the chances are that it will include a femme fatale, a trenchcoat-clad private eye, a rain slick sidewalk, a cheap room sporadically lit by a flickering neon sign, a world-weary and almost insolent voiceover, and maybe a flashback sequence. Actually, the latter is such a classic device, not one which is by any means exclusive to films noir but, even so, one which was frequently exploited successfully by those filmmakers exploring cinema’s kingdom of shadows. There is something inherently noir about the flashback, its underlining of the ease with which the past impinges on the present, that fatalistic allusion to mistakes forever stalking the protagonists, only ever a heartbeat away from the here and now. The Locket (1946) employs a succession of these nested dissolves to lead the viewer back and forwards through the tortured and occasionally bewildering experiences of its characters.

A bright and sunny day, what could be more conventional and thoroughly positive than the sight of a highly polished car drawing up before a well-appointed residence in order to deposit its highly polished and well-heeled occupants (Reginald Denny & Nella Walker) on the sidewalk with no more on their minds than a bit of idle chatter as the navigate their way through the waiting reporters and pass on inside to attend their nephew’s wedding? Everything smacks of sophistication, order and happiness as the groom (Gene Raymond) welcomes his guests. Yet within minutes a summons to have a word with a mysterious guest will create an unmistakable and possibly irreparable crack in this facade, figuratively elbowing the bride, Nancy (Laraine Day), aside and instead ushering in the dark clouds of chaos and disorder, an unexpected and unwelcome storm bringing with it theft, deception and murder. The interloper is Harry Blair (Brian Aherne), a psychiatrist who has a tale to tell about the bride to be. As we delve into the past via the first of multiple flashbacks it becomes clear that Nancy is not a soul at peace. Bit by bit, we are drawn back to her childhood, growing up as the daughter of a servant and suffering a telling psychologial trauma, being presented with a valuable locket only to have it snatched back and then later being falsely accused of stealing it. This proves to be the catalyst for the deeply disturbed life she will go on to lead. It alters her relationship with the world at large, twisting her sense of morality and even her perception of reality. The consequences of all this are her destructive marriages, both to the thoughtful and urbane Dr Blair and the more elemental artist Norman Clyde (Robert Mitchum), and her ambivalence to if not downright disregard of the law and the sanctity of human life itself.

The 1940s saw the production of a number of movies with plotlines based loosely and often fancifully on then fashionable Freudian approaches to psychoanalysis. Hitchcock explored this area with Spellbound while Robert Siodmak incorporated it into The Dark Mirror. John Brahm was another arrival from Europe and with The Locket he too turned his attention to the  dramatic possibilities stemming from stories of abnormal psychology, something he was not unfamiliar with having already made the rarely mentioned Guest in the House as well as the Gothic chillers Hangover Square and The Lodger. Sheridan Gibney’s screenplay, featuring layers of flashbacks to rival Michael Curtiz’s wartime thriller Passage to Marseille, with its suggestion that even innocent misunderstandings in the past have the malign power to reach forward, haunting characters in the present and leaving them doomed or damned, is powerfully bleak. Factor in Nicholas Musuraca’s gift for conjuring up gloriously evocative shadows around pools of shimmering light and the ingredients for a classic film noir are all in place.

Looked at today, the name that jumps out of the credits is that of Robert Mitchum. Nevertheless, he didn’t receive top billing in 1946 and while his stock was on the rise in Hollywood, it would be the following year when he made the seemingly unloved Desire Me alongside Pursued, Crossfire and the seminal noir Out of the Past before he’d rate a higher position. While his role is a significant one and pivotal in the development and progression of the story he remains the second lead. That said, it’s always a pleasure to see the man working on screen, to watch how effortless he made it all look, and of course his departure from the action is not only memorable but genuinely arresting.

There is something smooth and reassuring about Brian Aherne, his is a quiet screen presence that commands the attention yet never seems to demand it. Whenever he’s around there’s a sense that even though bad things may happen, and they most certainly do, it will all come right in the end. It is this quality which adds punch to the arc his character describes over the course of the movie. We see him move from the calm complacency of one who feels confident of his place in the world towards the dawning of some dreadful suspicion, and on to a kind of frenzied rejection of reality before finally reaching a form of reconciliation with the disbelief he is surrounded by. As Mitchum’s words come back to haunt him his philosophical acknowledgment that he is merely another cog in a dysfunctional cosmic process which appears fated to repeat itself cyclically is a wonderful touch. At the center of this careening emotional vortex is Laraine Day’s Nancy, a psychotic magpie who presents an angelic facade to the world, leaving a trail of devastation in her wake as she flits from one identity to another collecting pretty, shiny things on the way. Day (Foreign Correspondent) is shockingly good at conveying the ethical immaturity of her character by turning on that blank innocence whenever she is confronted with her crimes. In support, Gene Raymond, Helen Thimig, Katherine Emery and Ricardo Cortez drop in and out of the tale, all of them offering telling contributions.

The Locket should be easy enough to obtain as it was released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive in the US and also in the UK by Odeon/Screenbound. I have the latter, but it appears that may be out of print now. This is a visually stylish effort, just as one would expect from any project with the names of Brahm and Musuraca attached. The noir aesthetic is reflected in the themes too, that notion of an inescapable past being ripe with potential. This is the type of movie I very much enjoy and one I recommend checking out.

75 thoughts on “The Locket

  1. Great stuff Colin. This is probably the least known of that batch of psychoanalytic movies from the immediate postwar period but certainly deserves it’s own place at the table. The cast is great and Brahm the perfect director. I have the Warner MOD release but must now go and watch again I think – thanks mate!

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    • I think you’re right that it may be one of the less well known of that little group of films noir, although I’m not sure why that is the case. Perhaps the fact that it wasn’t as easy to see for many years played a part in that?

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        • Yes, that’s plausible. I like flashbacks and that whole business of seeing the past play out before our eyes. However, I can understand how it may be seen as problematic by others, especially when the whole movie is based around such a conceit.

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    • This is probably the least known of that batch of psychoanalytic movies from the immediate postwar period

      Bewitched, directed by Arch Oboler in 1945, may possibly be even more obscure. It’s kind of fun. I do love psychoanalytic movies.

      I saw The Locket fourteen years ago and I don’t remember a thing about it but my records indicate that I liked it! I think I have a copy. Another movie I should rewatch.

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      • I don’t believe I have ever seen Bewitched.
        Of course, there are also the Crime Doctor movies with Warner Baxter as the amnesiac who reforms and becomes a psychiatrist who does some detecting on the side. I watched the whole series again online about 18 moths ago and had a blast – but I really wish we could get a set released on disc.

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        • Bewitched is worth a look. It’s a kind of psychoanalytic film noir, it has a fine central performance by the underrated Phyllis Thaxter and it deals with a particular psychiatric problem that no movie had dealt with before (I won’t spoil the movie by giving any hints as to the nature of that problem).

          It’s like Spellbound in the sense that it’s a bold idea that doesn’t entirely come off but it’s still very watchable as a fascinating near-miss with some really interesting features.

          It also features an uncredited Audrey Totter but you won’t spot her!

          If nothing else it’s the kind of movie that is great fun to discuss. Any movie that polarises viewers as much as this one does is in my view always worth seeing.

          Liked by 1 person

    • It is a good role for Laraine Day. I haven’t seen that much of her work aside from Foreign Correspondent and The High and the Mighty. That said, I did watch Fingers at the Window fairly recently, which was a fun if minor movie.

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      • Laraine made an earlier film with Brian, My Son, My Son, and she scores. In an interview for Foreign Correspondent she believed her work in the earlier film lead Hitchcock to her

        her.

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          • I just went through Brian Aherne’s filmography and realize that I’ve only seen in him a couple of films myself — “I Confess” and “The Titanic”. Since he appeared on “Wagon Train and “The Twilight Zone” I may have seen him there as well. He’s a very likable presence. He’s the kind of guy that when you go to a social gathering that you’re dreading, he’s the lone source of comfort. Going through his filmography, I see that he was in a film called “A Night to Remember” which, of course, is the name of another famous film about the Titanic.

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          • Colin
            Love your ” scratched record,” line. I must admit that THE LOCKET is another film that I have never seen. Your top-flight review shall have me seeking a remedy to that oversight. Nice job.

            Gord

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks. We all get reminders of movies that have managed to pass us by, don’t we? It’s somehing I appreciate about blogging – the pointers towards undiscovered material that almost inevitably come up via discussions.

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          • Upon reflecting, my most memorable screen performance of Brian Aherne is his portrayal of Maximilian I of Mexico in the epic historical film, “Juarez” (1939), Paul Muni played the title role, but it was Aherne’s performance that garnered him the much deserved recognition by the Academy, thus resulting in his nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

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  2. I enjoyed your review, Colin, of a very enjoyable, if minor, noir from RKO, probably the master studio for post-war ‘noir’. When cinematographers are named in glowing terms the name of Nicholas Musuraca is unlikely to be among them and yet……his work on these great little pictures from this era is superb.

    Laraine Day was beautiful and looked so ‘good’ that having her as a deranged woman is a masterstroke. Surely this cannot be!!

    Mitchum was, as has been told, on the rise but had not yet made “OUT OF THE PAST” (1947) but it was obvious he was going to be a big star, having that undeniable screen presence (If in doubt catch him starring in the RKO B-western “WESTOF THE PECOS” in 1945). The same year as he made “THE LOCKET” he also starred in MGM’s “UNDERCURRENT”, as brother to lead star Robert Taylor with Katherine Hepburn. That is another very enjoyable film that I would enjoy seeing you review, Colin (or have you done it already? Apologies, if so).

    You are delving in favourite territory for me with this film.

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      • Aside from a minor hole in the plot, I didn’t find “The Locket” as a work of fiction to be improbable. Although any story about child abuse is heart-breaking, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and thought Brahm did a marvelous job. Day, Aherne, Mitchum, and Katherine Emery were all splendid.

        ***Spoilers***

        While Dr. Blair and John Ewart Willis, Jr. are paragons of nobility in recognizing that Nancy is badly in need of genuine love and acceptance, the story, for me, ends on a fatalistic note. In the final scene, while Nancy is being escorted by the nurse, the camera lingers on a rope and Nancy’s feet as she ascends the stairs. Nancy is guilty of murder and let an innocent man take the rap for it. She is ascending the gallows. Myron Dexter, the innocent butler, didn’t have his death sentence commuted by the Governor, so Brahm won’t give Nancy a reprieve. Moreover, it is the shrew, Mrs. Ewart Willis, Sr., who is the last person we see in the film, closing the door on the story. Anyway, that’s my take.

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  3. Colin, another fine write-up of what I think is a gem of a movie. For all who haven’t viewed THE LOCKET(1946), I recommend it. I really like what you have to say about flashbacks in Noir Movies, especially in this movie, which I think handles this device very well. I enjoyed reading your take on this, “There is something inherently noir about the flashback, its underlining of the ease with which the past impinges on the present, that fatalistic allusion to mistakes forever stalking the protagonists, only ever a heartbeat away from the here and now.” This is so true in THE LOCKET, which I think is the flashback of all flashback movies. Also, what an ending. I agree with Sergio, that this movie deserves its own place at the table of psychoanalytic movies from the postwar World War II period.

    I wasn’t able to catch up to THE LOCKET, until a viewing on Turner Classic Movies in 2012 and then again in 2015. I’ve viewed a lot of RKO Radio Pictures on tv during the 1960’s, ’70’s, 80’s, and ’90’s, but I never saw THE LOCKET programed on any tv channel in my neck of the woods. Thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies.

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    • Availability, or the lack thereof, has to be a factor to some extent when it comes to reasons for not just this but a sizeable number of movies having a lower profile. It’s a rare work indeed that will maintain much of a reputation when it is largely out of circulation. We could file this in the box next to “murky, beat-up prints.”

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      • Another film dealing with childhood malfeasance vis a vis a tyrannical adult is “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”. All of the youths are reunited in adulthood but the truth of the past won’t release several of the principals from its grip. A terrific movie.

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  4. The other night I watched “The Man Who Cheated Himself”. I have mixed feelings about it although overall I liked the movie. The ending shot at the deserted and cavernous Fort Point building is definitely the high point of the film. I felt Lee J. Cobb was miscast but his natural talents carry him in his role as the love-smitten detective. What are other people’s thoughts on “The Man Who Cheated Himself”?

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    • It was a late ‘discovery’ for me, Frank, and one I was very happy to have my attention drawn to. For me, Lee J. Cobb was rather well cast actually, an actor versatile enough to carry the role. His role here contrasting well with the bigoted loudmouth in “TWELVE ANGRY MEN” and then the quiet and dignified Judge Garth on TV in “THE VIRGINIAN”.
      The climactic scenes shot at Fort Point were well-staged, leaving a lasting impression in the viewer’s memory.

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      • I love Lee J. Cobb in so many roles. My favorite was that of “Johnny Friendly” in “On the Waterfront”. He was superb. It’s a shame he didn’t win an Oscar for it. Edmond O’Brien won for “The Barefoot Contessa”. He was very good but I felt Cobb didn’t have a chance as three actors from “On the Waterfront” were up for Best Supporting Actor — Cobb, Karl Malone, and Rod Steiger and they undoubtedly split votes among them. And Cobb was wonderful, if over-the-top, as Fyodor Karamazov in “The Brothers Karamazov”. There was “Man of the West”, “The Exorcist”, “Captain from Castile”, and so many others.

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  5. Tonight I took in the nasty neo-noir, NIGHTCRAWALER from 2014. Jake Gyllenhaal headlines this wickedly entertaining tale of a man out to advance his career at whatever price.

    Gord

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  6. Hi, Colin – I have just watched RED MOUNTAIN, included in an Aussie Alan
    Ladd set of 5 movies, a set which cost me $A 25. The quality of the image and audio is good and I can recommend it to the RTHC gang. I must say I found the movie every bit as good as you indicated in your excellent review last month. It is has much well-directed action and suspense, great use of the rugged New Mexico landscape and uniformly strong performances by its stellar cast. Ladd and John Ireland are especially good. Thanks to Kevin Deany for his comment alerting me to the availability of the set.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s a while since I’ve seen The Locket but I really liked it. It’s different on a few levels. Of course that flashback structure is what makes it really interesting.

    I loved Day as a unique kind of femme fatale. She’s one of Noir’s best and most deadly femmes fatales, not because she is the proverbial seductive and provocative spider-woman but because she is all wide-eyed innocence…sweet, angelic, charming and ethereal. Phony innocence can be just as dangerous as in your face sex. Day is pure poison dissolved in fluffy and sweet cotton candy, and you don’t notice it until it’s way too late.

    We get the same type of FF in …..SPOILERS SPOILERS

    Alan Ladd’s Calcutta. Gail Russell’s doe-eyed and delicate Madonna is just as dangerous as Phyllis Dietrichson.

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  8. Folks, off topic a bit.
    Tonight I am recording CARLTON BROWNE OF THE F.O.1959. This UK production stars Terry-Thomas, Peter Sellers and Ian Bannen.. I am a big Thomas fan but have never seen this one. Any opinions from you good people, is it worth a look?

    Gordon

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    • I haven’t seen the movie for a long time but I’d basically go with what Jerry said – I remember liking it but it doesn’t stand out. It also has Thorley Walters and Raymond Huntley in supporting roles, which is a nice bonus, and Boulting Brothers films are always worthwhile on some level.

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        • I’ve had terrible luck with The Green Man. There’s some kind of cosmic conspiracy to stop me from watching it. I order a copy and it never shows up. I add it to my rental queue and it stays there for two years and then vanishes. I will however make another effort to buy a copy.

          I have seen a couple of Alastair Sim movies recently. He only has a supporting part in Hue and Cry but it’s a fun little movie. And I watched The Belles of St Trinian’s/I>. Which I was really nervous about. I’d loved it as a kid but I was afraid that seeing it agin now would be a disappointment. But it was just as much fun as I’d remembered.

          The hockey match is priceless, with the girls from the opposing team carried off the field one by one on stretchers. Because to the girls of St Trinian’s hockey is a blood sport.

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      • School for Scoundrels is a particular favourite of mine.

        But I really enjoy it when Terry-Thomas turns to crime, in movies like Make Mine Mink and Too Many Crooks. Definitely a comic genius, and like so many British comic geniuses of that era he never received proper recognition of his talents.

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  9. Weekend watching
    I intent to re-watch one of my favorite UK Sci-Fi films, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE from 1961. The film stars Edward Judd, Leo McKern and Janet Munro.

    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I know that Rod Steiger is not everyone’s favorite actor at RTHC, but I actually get a kick out of his thespian shenanigans. I just watched the ultimate Rod Steiger movie, “Across the Bridge”. Rod plays a corrupt wealthy businessman who hightails it to Mexico with Scotland Yard on his tail. Steiger totally dominates every scene in this mondo bizarro movie. A British production filmed in Spain on a low budget, “Across the Bridge” features a dog named “Dolores” who gets more screen time than Bernard Lee. I found the movie diverting with Rod at his best (or worst depending on your point of view).

    I also caught “The Dark Past” (1948) by Rudolph Mate the other day. William Holden plays a psychopathic killer and Lee J. Cobb is the hostage / psychiatrist who unlocks his dark past in record time. Holden and Cobb are both excellent in this implausible but entertaining film.

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      • I like both those films quite well. “ACROSS THE BRIDGE” though is a film I saw once and did nothing for me. As Frank probably knows, I am not the world’s biggest Steiger fan but thought he was VERY good in “THE PAWNBROKER” (1965) and good also in “THREE INTO TWO WON’T GO” (1969). Not seen either of those films in many a year.

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  11. Just for a lark,really,for no other reason I thought I’d “do a Gordon” and detail what I’ve been watching recently, not everything, but a few that linger on.
    On Talking Pictures TV I watched MOSS ROSE which Colin featured fairly recently-I really enjoyed the film-the casting of
    Victor Mature was rather odd but he did well in an unusual role (for him) I thought. Peggy Cummins was a delight playing a Cockney girl from Shoreditch a contrast to her other Fox film of the same vintage ESCAPE where she plays an upper class member of the horsey set who befriends Rex Harrison’s escaped convict. I hope Talking Pictures TV can show ESCAPE in the near future.
    I’ve been buying a few of these Australian Umbrella double bills on Blu Ray and was pleased with their Bogart double TOKYO JOE and KNOCK ON ANY DOOR. TOKYO JOE, apart from all the mayhem, was basically a love triangle between Bogart, Alexander Knox and the mysterious, seldom seen Florence Marley I found the film entertaining enough and the ending was downbeat and ironic.
    KNOCK ON ANY DOOR I’ve never seen and for me it was top drawer Nicholas Ray powerful as both social drama and courtroom thriller.
    Another of these Umbrella double bills was I AIM AT THE STARS and MAN ON THE STRING a sort of “Cold War” double bill. The film I really wanted was the Andre de Toth film which I enjoyed having never seen the film. The Wernher von Braun bio pic covers the pre Hitler period right up to the Cold War late 50’s era. I enjoyed the film far more than I was expecting-especially as I was anticipating a whitewash job which the film certainly was not. As played by Curd Jergens von Braun comes across as a man solely driven by science. Ethical issues are raised especially when von Braun’s wife,nicely played by underrated Victoria Shaw questions the possibility of one of the V2 rockets striking a children’s hospital. What really made the film for me were two secondary characters; Gia Scala plays an agent working for the Allies who manages to infiltrate von Braun’s inner circle during World War 2. When the action shifts to America von Braun confronts his nemesis an American intelligence officer nicely played by James Daly. Daly’s character’s reason for disliking von Braun so much is due to his
    wife and baby losing their life during a London V2 raid. The relationship that develops between Gia Scala and James Daly’s
    characters is very handled, I thought. The picture quality on these Umbrella Blu Ray’s is excellent.

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    • Good to hear from you, John. It’s a long time since I last watched Tokyo Joe and I recall little about it now apart from the fact I came away from it feeling it had been just middling but a better movie than the rather torpid Sirocco. Generally, I’ve found those Santana movies a bit of a disappointment. In a Lonely Place is far and away the pick of the bunch, a truly great movie. Knock On Any Door is not up to that standard but it’s still Nicholas Ray and Bogart. Are those Umbrella 2-in-1 affairs expensive? I wouldn’t mind taking a punt on the Bogart pair if the price was right.

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      • Those Umbrella Blu Ray’s are around £20 or
        £10 per film if you like.
        The picture quality was fine by me, especially
        KNOCK ON ANY DOOR
        Ray was not too fond of the film,in retrospect
        he would rather have shot the street scenes on location
        and disliked the flashback structure.
        As it happens it is one of his most un-tampered with
        films-I found it a gripping view with solid acting all round.

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    • Always good to hear from you, John. Not often enough though, buddy.

      Very interested in your description of “I AIM AT THE STARS” as I have just finished reading Robert Harris’s latest novel, “V2”, which tells the story of the development of the V2 rockets in which Von Braun played a leading role but with a fictional story of some characters cleverly woven into fact. There was much mention of Fighter Command headquartered at Bentley Priory in Stanmore where I grew up from age 11 for the next 15 years and knew Bentley Priory quite well.
      Von Braun is quite centrally featured in the book, which I have no problem recommending.

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