John Brahm | 82 mins | download | PG
If The Locket is known for anything, it’s for a plot structure that places flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. There’s always the potential for good fun in that kind of structure, though it’s usually the kind of thing that sounds more complicated than it is — the straightforward ‘concentric circle’ arrangement here makes them a doddle to follow; so straightforward, in fact, that it would be easy to miss how it was so structured.
Some rich chap is about to get married to a gal named Nancy. On the big day, a doctor turns up asking for a word. He begins to relate a tale stretching back to before the war, of the guys Nancy has conned before, including himself. Is he making it all up for some reason? In the doctor’s tale, he begins dating Nancy only for an artist (played by Robert Mitchum) to turn up one day to tell him all about his past with her. Has the doctor made this similar situation up to sell his story? Or is Nancy really a serial con artist?
The story is, largely, a passable melodrama. We’re presented with plenty of evidence that Nancy is definitely a tricksy operator, but then is the man telling the tale an unreliable narrator? I don’t know if the filmmakers were even aware of such a concept. Maybe that’s unkind; maybe they just didn’t want him to be one; but the ending we do get is very pat, and I’m not sure it quite makes sense. It might have been more interesting if the doctor had been making it all up; or if it had been left open ended, with Nancy set to ruin someone else’s life. That could well have worked, leaving the audience to come to its own conclusions, etc. Considering the film’s age, however, I’m sure there were demands we see this thief and murderess brought to justice.
Despite pre-dating Hitchcock’s reportedly groundbreaking film by almost two decades, the deployment of psychology in Nancy’s motivations reminded me of Marnie. A burgeoning field at the time, I believe, which makes it both attractive to filmmakers and liable to be weakly applied. The film isn’t that similar to Marnie — other than the female lead with the event in her past that explains her criminal activities in the present, that is — but perhaps the reliance on psychological jiggery-pokery that I didn’t quite buy brought it to mind.
Nancy is made most complicated by the final scene, when the truth is more or less revealed. Her subsequent breakdown suggests that, maybe, she isn’t completely the manipulative criminal it seemed all along, but instead a damaged individual doing these things involuntarily. This isn’t the wholly nonsensical part of the film — her apparently-accidental marriage to the son of the house she grew up in would be that bit — but I preferred it when she was just a villain. Psychologically it holds relevance, but at the same time she’s rather taken it to extremes. Or maybe I was just fed up by then.
Generally, the film is a bit too melodramatic and half-conceived for my taste. There are some good bits — the ultimate conclusion to Mitchum’s story is neatly directed and surprising (hence I shall say no more here). As if that painting wasn’t freaky enough by itself… But, overall, this isn’t one for the “forgotten classics” pile.