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Locket, The (DVD Review)

16 Aug, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$19.95 DVD
Not rated
Stars Brian Aherne, Gene Raymond, Henry Stephenson, Laraine Day, Ricardo Cortez, Robert Mitchum, Sharyn Moffett.

Back when she was still known as “the First Lady of Baseball,” due to what seemed to me (then and now) her unlikely marriage to mouthy Hall of Fame manager Leo “The Lip” Durocher, I watched Laraine Day turn men into mush on ABC’s “Hollywood Film Theater.”

No one remembers this program, whose brief run spanned the spring and summer of 1957, but it was the first attempt to run vintage ‘A’-movie Hollywood features on network TV, and it’s how King Kong, Top Hat, Gunga Din, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and other RKOs — programmed in a de facto death wish opposite Ed Sullivan — got their TV premieres. (The series opener was 1948’s Rachel and the Stranger, probably because William Holden, Robert Mitchum and then television fixture Loretta Young were all huge at the time.)

The Locket wasn’t one of the big names “HFT” showed just as I was turning 10, but it made a lasting impression on me for three reasons. One is that Day, whom I’d seen on a panoramic CinemaScope three years earlier being frigid to her husband in The High and the Mighty, destroyed at least two men here, even though she looked nothing like the standard femme fatale. The second is that this was the first time I had ever been exposed to kleptomania as a concept, in this case a key (actually, the key) component of the movie. But most of all, it was the twisted (in one sense) telling of a twisted (in another sense) story via one of the messiest time structures ever. The film’s biggest claim to fame is that it contains a flashback within a flashback within a flashback.

But the story is more psychologically compelling than I realized at a young age — or critics realized, given that the movie was generally regarded as being muddled. Day, a domestic’s daughter with a strong sense of class differences, grows up to gravitate toward the rich and works as secretary for a well-to-do who’ll end up as a murder victim. As the story begins, she’s about to marry into high society without having mentioned to anyone a previous five-year legal union with a psychiatrist whose life with her was the equivalent of training for a second doctorate.

The shrink (Brian Aherne) shows up to warn the groom (Gene Raymond) to screech-halt the nuptials just before the ceremony is to begin. He then launches into this story about his past — followed by a longer one about the earlier plight of an artist who was involved with Day when her alleged double-dealings got the wrong person executed at Sing Sing. You can just imagine the wedding guests grousing about how their drinking at the reception will likely be delayed because the groom is listening to double flashbacks.

Robert Mitchum plays the artist, from that early period when he occasionally played chumps (or, for that matter, wore a tux on screen, which he does in a key party scene here). By the summer of ’57, when The Locket aired on ABC, Mitchum was already into self-parody — what with the concurrent Capitol LP release of Calypso Is Like So (still the pinnacle of Caucasian Calypso) and roles like the adventurer he played in the previous year’s Bandido. There, he lumbers into a hotel lobby where there’s massive street shooting (not as destructive as the beginning of The Wild Bunch, but getting there) and requests “a room with a view.”

But in this case, he’s a moody type taken to town by a woman, and his final act (also on a street) isn’t very pretty. Before this, however, we get a third flashback that involves the Day character as a young girl — accused by a fancy home’s entitled mistress (and her mother’s employer) of stealing a locket. In another century, this prune could have been a villain in Jane Eyre; if not a good kick in the slats, she at least needs someone — say, the kind of character Mitchum normally plays — to tell her an off-color joke. The confrontation and its lead-up make for a traumatic and nicely sustained section of the movie, very well directed by John Brahm, a ’40s film noir specialist whose cult is wrapped around this film, The Lodger, Hangover Square and perhaps Guest in the House (long and talky, but it lingers in the memory). He then hit the big-screen wall a decade later with thankless projects from The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (religious visions from Danny Thomas’s future TV daughter) to The Mad Magician (Vincent Price and Eva Gabor in already dying 3D). TV, however, gave him an exceptional late-inning career, including a dozen episodes for The Twilight Zone.

Brahm pulls out the stylistic flourishes for the finale, a scene that ultimately puts over the movie. It’s grown-up, tantalizingly ambiguous and, in its way, credible — not the usual melodramatic comeuppance scenario (say, falling off a cliff) that screen women like Day’s character often have to endure. The actress’s performance (very good) is served by an array of changing hairstyles but doesn’t lean on them. This is, after all, a character who’s always reinventing herself — remaining unflappable (at least for a while) throughout constant in-her-face accusations of duplicity by men going down for the count.

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