The Locket (1946) John Brahm
Warner Archive DVD
John Willis (Gene Raymond) is all set to marry Nancy (Laraine Day), the woman of his dreams, until he’s approached by a man named Harry Blair (Brian Aherne). Blair, claiming to be Nancy’s former husband, warns Willis that he’s about to marry a thief, a liar, and quite possibly a murderer, all in one. Thus begins one of the most complicated uses of flashback in all of film noir – a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.
Blair tells of his marriage to Nancy, and how a portrait painter named Norman Clyde (Robert Mitchum) once warned Blair against marrying Nancy, to no avail, of course. Clyde’s story to Blair involves another flashback from Nancy’s point of view, all about how a diamond locket she was given as a child has led her to the troubled life she now lives.
By the time we get to the finale, the flashbacks are over, yet their importance takes on a huge significance. Not only do the flashbacks peel away the layers of Nancy’s complexity, they also strengthen a movie that might’ve seemed somewhat pedestrian without them. If all of these flashbacks sound complicated, they’re really not. Brahm keeps things moving fairly simply and we’re never really very confused about when or where we are in the story, mainly because Laraine Day does such a wonderful job of portraying the beautiful but troubled Nancy. Mitchum is also very good in one of his early important roles (this being one of the first times Mitchum was actually credited as Robert Mitchum and not Bob Mitchum, as he was in his very early roles), playing against type as an artist, not the type of profession we normally associate with the actor.
The flashbacks are usually responsible for most discussions about the film, but viewers should know that The Locket has one of the most shocking scenes in all of film noir (and I’m not talking about the ending). Be sure to add this one to your “to watch” list, especially if you enjoy film noir.