The Locket (1946)

2011 #68
John Brahm | 82 mins | download | PG

This review contains major spoilers.

The LocketIf 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. Doctor doctor, is this some kind of a joke?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 Not a locket to be seenmanipulative 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.

3 out of 5

Marnie (1964)

2009 #6
Alfred Hitchcock | 125 mins | DVD | 15 / PG

MarnieMarnie is a film grounded in the field of psychoanalysis, though that word is never used and none of the characters are a therapist. Instead, it just concerns itself with a main character suffering under the strain of repressed childhood memories, though this isn’t revealed until the end. Unfortunately, psychoanalysis was only an emerging area at the time of production, and the price Marnie pays for being ahead of the pack in the mid ’60s is that it looks dated and inaccurate now.

For one thing, it’s slow paced. Not necessarily a bad thing, and here it does serve to gradually build some elements, but at times you wonder where it’s all going. Part of the problem is that much of the story’s first half is just a distraction from the main point, in which case I suppose it’s Hitchcock’s famous MacGuffin; but the changes between elements of crime, romance, family drama and internal struggle come across not as a measured part of a considered whole, but as a mishmash of genres. One might consider this a good thing, adding variety and complexity to the film, but as it merrily switches back and fore it doesn’t seem to fulfill any genre to its full potential.

That isn’t to say Marnie is meritless. Plot-wise, the central mystery does get more intriguing as it goes on and the whole film gets better with it. It’s not just that it becomes a more interesting story, but almost every scene is more engaging, better written, acted and directed. Also, without a single frame of grinding, moaning, kicking or screaming, it contains one of the most sinister (suggested) sex scenes in the movies, thanks to the combined skills of Hitchcock and his two stars.

In the title role, a lot is asked of Tippi Hedren — a lot more than she had to manage in The Birds the year before — but she rises to the occasion, most of the time. It’s through no fault of hers that Marnie’s aversion to red is overplayed, especially as it’s the picture constantly fading through red that almost pushes it to the point of amusement. This is again a problem of being one of the first to try to film an entirely internal struggle. In the other lead role is Sean Connery, just two years after he created James Bond on screen, and here he plays a smooth playboy-esque character with a fondness for women and a tendency to violent outbursts. Not straying too far afield then, but he fits the role like a glove.

In this DVD age, I’d also like to point out that the film’s trailer is truly fantastic. Narrated by Hitchcock, he merrily takes the mick out of his own movie for several minutes. It’s a slice of joyous irreverence that makes you wish he’d brought some of it to the actual film, and wonder what would happen if a film was advertised with such a tonally incongruous trail today.

Trailer aside, Marnie is sub-par Hitchcock, but even then his considerable skill coaxes it to greater heights than many — perhaps any — other director could have achieved with the basic material.

3 out of 5