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THE LOCKET

(1946)

Laraine Day, Robert Mitchum, Brian Aherne; dir: John Brahm

  

If you don’t mind morbid excess The Locket offers something a little different in noir. It certainly couldn’t have existed without that 1940s wave of psychological interiorising that swept through Hollywood and onto its screens. Notorious for its triple flashback construction, in this psychological environment that feature is not only seamless but makes perfect sense in a discourse based on remembering.

Director Brahm was one of the wave of Hitler refugees who washed up in Hollywood to everyone’s benefit, leaving in 1933 for England after a successful career in the Weimar theatre. The Locket makes it clear he brought his Teutonic sturm und drang with him. He’s best known for a string of well regarded noirs including a Phillip Marlowe vehicle, The Brasher Doubloon (1947) based on Raymond Chandler’s novel High Window. However he also took a shot at the Reich before it was official U.S. policy in the peacetime anti-Nazi thriller Escape To Glory (1940 – aka Submarine Zone). Brahm’s background remains strongly evident here in his unflinching portrayal of the Luftwaffe’s Blitz on London (yes, in a flashback) and the destruction it wreaked so indiscriminately. (In this sequence The Locket is strongly reminiscent of another of Hollywood’s peacetime anti-Nazi films, Confirm or Deny [1941]).

Mitchum’s artist character Norman Clyde is as brusque and forceful as ever (did he ever act?) but Clyde’s out of his depth psychologically, which is why he flounders. Nevertheless, his eventual fate is unconvincing. Star Laraine Day, unrecognisable from her ‘nice girl’ role in Foreign Correspondent, is gorgeous – evidently malfeasance suits her!  Clyde’s portrait rendering her literally as an eyeless (in Gaza?) ‘Cassandra’ lays it on thick but Nick Musuraca’s superb noir cinematography anchors this tale of inevitable personal doom and makes it credible, ably rendering its unremitting gloom through his deeply chiaroscuro camerawork.

Telescoping viewers back to a series of pasts and then returning them, suitably enlightened, to a more complicated present must have seemed a perfect vehicle to articulate the psychoanalytic process without spelling it out. And the role reversal of placing the shrink centre stage - not as a serene listener but as an anxious informant - underlines the destabilised nature of the noir universe. If today The Locket’s dark vistas seem more familiar, they’re still unnerving, due to their determination to reach their unavoidable conclusion.

- Roger Westcombe