Noir City #6

The Locket (1944): Normally, I frown upon the flashback structure. Unless you have a solid justification for it (like Memento), it comes across as gimmicky. There’s no reason to move backwards, particularly when the flashback does nothing to resolve the problems set up in a film’s early moments. But The Locket is a different kettle altogether. Not only does it have a flashback-within-a-flashback, but it has a flashback-within-a-flashback-wthin-a-flashback. Indeed, there were so many flashbacks in this movie that I feared writer Sheridan Gibney and director John Brahm would lead me to the moment in which sperm fertilized egg and Laraine Day’s character was born. Fortunately, the flashbacks stopped when the Day character was nine.

But the flashbacks in The Locket work. Because they tell how Laraine Day’s psychosis came to be. They also echo the perspectives of the characters surrounding Day. The film’s methodology runs something like this: A flashback is initiated when a previously screwed over s.o. of Day tells the story to an about-to-be-screwed over s.o. of Day. And we begin to see common patterns of how Day is in denial about her condition. We also learn how the men are foolish enough to play into her sympathies. Even as they tell their stories to the next guy, there is still a part of them that believes that Day is benign.

And if that weren’t enough, we get a silly middle-aged, upper-class Englishwoman singing and dancing a really terrible jig, to the unjustified pleasure of her audience. (“The Germans couldn’t stop her from dancing during the blitz,” we’re informed.) We get crude psychoanalysis with overgeneralized theories. We get Robert Mitchum cast as a cocky painter (and since this is a young Mitchum, it’s fascinating to watch the Mitchum stare in early development). We get the most ridiculous pretext for Day and psychiatrist Brian Aherne hooking up. (One bicycle, moving slower than a treadmill at its lowest setting, runs into the other and both fall down. Either people cycled slower in those days or the filmmakers were on crystal meth and failed to compensate.)

Plenty of the films programmed had better dialogue, better visuals and better performances, but this was one of my favorite films of the festival. I think it had something to do with the dancing Englishwoman.

Decoy (1946): The phrase “consummate trash” comes to mind. Nedrick Young’s script is implausible, the sets are more wobbly than an episode of Doctor Who, the production design is flat and uninspired (to the point where even walls and tables are largely unadorned). This movie looks and feels like the cheapest B-movie possible.

But nobody seems to have informed director Jack Bernhard that he’s propping up pulp. Benhard approaches this movie as if he’s David Lean. He dollies the camera across sparse prison sets that look as if they were put together under a WPA project. He goes for the arty shot, despite the fact that it will reveal the set’s limitations. He adorns the audio with an overbearing symphony, almost as if he expected the audience to rise from their seats and stand for the Queen. Bernhard’s remarkable tenacity reminded me of Don Edmonds’ work on the Ilsa films, whereby Edmonds raised the worst material possible to something oddly endearing.

The film has extremely baffling moments, such as the guy in the morgue who flips through the dictionary and howls with laughter over what the words mean. (And on top of that, he pronounces dichotomy “DI-SHAW-TA-ME.”) Or the philanthropic doctor in the skids somehow convinced to abandon his practice on the flimsiest of reasons.

And then there’s Jean Gillie, who gives Faye Dunaway a run for her money on sheer camp alone. Gillie’s idea of commitment is running over her partners and grabbing hold of a suitcase, shouting, “Mine! All mine!” It’s safe to say that Gillie wouldn’t last long in a job interview.

My only real quibble with the film was that I wasn’t tipsy when I saw it. If ever a movie was made to befuddle humanity, it’s Decoy. And I say this with the best of intentions.

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