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The Locket

The Locket(1946)

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teaser The Locket (1946)

The Locket, a 1946 film noir has intrigued audiences for decades with its intricate narrative. Like several other films in the genre, its story is told largely in flashback -- psychiatrist Brian Aherne tries to warn Gene Raymond that the woman he's about to marry (Laraine Day) is a dangerous psychopath. But in the middle of his story, the film switches to a flashback recounting the memories of her previous husband (Robert Mitchum), who then leads the audience into a flashback told by Day. Few films had tried anything as intricate as a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. At the time, audiences often arrived in the middle of a film and stayed until its later showing to pick up on what they had missed. That was impossible with The Locket, however, a fact contemporary critics were quick to point out. For later audiences, however, the film's unconventional structure has become one of its most distinctive features, helping it to earn cult status.

The Locket was written by Sheridan Gibney for producer Bert Granet, who had forged a strong bond with Laraine Day working on the comedy Those Endearing Young Charms (1945). When she learned about the project, which featured a strong female role in the tradition of such femmes fatales played by Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944) and Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), she asked her agent to put her up for the role. The character was a distinct change-of-pace for Day, who had built her career playing simple girl-next-door types like nurse Mary Lamont in MGM's first Dr. Kildare films. But Granet loved the idea of casting her against type as a compulsive liar and kleptomaniac who lets a man go to the electric chair to cover up her evil deeds and drives another to suicide. Even when much bigger stars like Olivia de Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, expressed interest, he fought to keep Day, no mean feat considering that Fontaine was then married to Bill Dozier, the head of RKO, where the film was to be made. But Granet persisted, giving Day what would become her favorite role and earning her the best reviews in her career.

Helping tremendously was director John Brahm. Working at 20th Century-Fox, Brahm had built his reputation on a string of stylish thrillers starting with the low-budget werewolf film The Undying Monster (1942) and peaking with the Jack the Ripper tale The Lodger (1944). Granet borrowed him from Fox and got his own studio, RKO, to assign their best film noir cameraman, Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People, 1942; The Spiral Staircase,1946) to shoot the film.

Day was thrilled with the actors cast in the film. She had grown up idolizing Aherne and Ricardo Cortez. And she had started her career working with Mitchum in the Long Beach Players. She was amazed, however, when Mitchum refused to speak to her on the set. She attributed it to his problems with marijuana, which were well known in Hollywood at the time. In reality, Mitchum was reacting to an imagined snub years earlier, when she was already working in films and he had tried to talk to her in Schwab's Drugstore. When she ignored him, he decided she had gotten too "important" to speak to a newcomer and swore that one day he would return the insult and steal a film from her. His role as a romantic artist in The Locket didn't really give him that kind of opportunity, but at least he could console himself in that fact that while Day had to fight for her role, he was on the fast track to stardom. After years of nothing roles, he had scored a hit in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). As soon as he finished his supporting role in The Locket, one of his last supporting roles as it would turn out, he was due for a loan-out to MGM for leading roles opposite Katharine Hepburn in Undercurrent (1946) and Greer Garson in Desire Me (1947).

The Locket opened to mixed reviews, though critics were quick to hail Day's performance. She won a Photoplay magazine citation for Performance of the Month, no mean feat considering that the film was released in December, the same time as several top Oscar® contenders. But despite some Oscar® buzz, she was passed over by the Academy®. With the decline in the studio system in the late '40s and early '50s, she would be one of many one-time contract players scrambling to survive in the new Hollywood. In fact, she would achieve her greatest fame when she married baseball manager Leo Durocher and got so involved in supporting his career that she was dubbed "the first lady of baseball."

Producer: Bert Granet
Director: John Brahm
Screenplay: Sheridan Gibney
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Score: Roy Webb
Cast: Laraine Day (Nancy Blair), Brian Aherne (Dr. Blair), Robert Mitchum (Norman Clyde), Gene Raymond (John Wilis), Ricardo Cortez (Mr. Bonner), Henry Stephenson (Lord Wyndham), Katherine Emery (Mrs. Willis), Reginald Denny (Mr. Wendall), Fay Helm (Mrs. Bonner), Lilian Fontaine (Lady Wyndham), Ellen Corby (Kitchen Girl), Martha Hyer (Bridesmaid).
BW-86m. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller

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