The film begins with John Willis about to marry Nancy (Laraine Day), a mysterious but charming woman that the Willis’s extended family knows next to nothing about. The prenuptial party is crashed by psychiatrist Harry Blair (who has the poor taste to reduce the wedding to mere framing device) who claims that Nancy is his ex-wife and a deeply unstable murderess. Dr. Blair relates how he was visited in his office by a Norman Clyde (Robert Mitchum), an uncompromising artist who was once very much in love with Nancy until he began to suspect she was a compulsive kleptomaniac who once killed to cover up a theft. He traces her disorder to a childhood incident she once confessed (via flashback once again) in which she was falsely accused of stealing a locket from a rich girl.
Of course, the movie wouldn’t be any fun if simply recalling the original trigger event cured the present repercussions, the all-too-common anticlimax of several similar films (gialli, I’m looking at you). “The Locket” instead ramps up the tension, by showing how knowledge of Nancy’s kleptomania only causes her successive lovers to be beleaguered with doubt. As we gradually backtrack out of the nested flashbacks, each man loses Nancy, finds their clueless successor and infects him with a tale that is treated with initial skepticism, but spreads like a viral paranoia.
This is where the Hitchcock feel really kicks in. John Brahm, whose frequently overlooked noir credentials include “The Lodger” (1944) and “Hangover Square” (1945), constructs plenty of delightful scenes in which the hapless menfolk remain just out of reach of confirming their suspicions about Nancy, but fail until some perversely unexpected moment. Meanwhile, Nancy, who compulsively and often convincing lies to cover her tracks, has the infuriating tendency to believe herself. She’s like an inadvertent femme fatale who isn’t even aware of her own crimes or bizarre agenda.
Walrus Rating: 8.5