Big Clock, The [Blu-ray]
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Adapted by acclaimed screenwriter Jonathan Latimer from a novel by the equally renowned crime author Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock is a superior suspense film which classily combines screwball comedy with heady thrills.
Overworked true crime magazine editor George Stroud (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend, The Pyjama Girl Case) has been planning a vacation for months. However, when his boss, the tyrannical media tycoon Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton, Witness for the Prosecution), insists he skips his holiday, Stroud resigns in disgust before embarking on an impromptu drunken night out with his boss's mistress, Pauline York (Rita Johnson, The Major and the Minor). When Janoth kills Pauline in a fit of rage, Stroud finds himself to have been the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time: his staff have been tasked with finding a suspect with an all too familiar description... Stroud s very own!
Directed with panache by John Farrow (Around the World in 80 Days), who stylishly renders the film s towering central set, the Janoth Building, The Big Clock benefits from exuberant performances by Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, who make hay with the script s snappy dialogue. A huge success on its release, it is no wonder this fast-moving noir was remade years later as the Kevin Costner vehicle No Way Out.
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There are intentional references to other movies: Milland forgetting the time in the tavern with Pauline York. that is "The Lost Weekend."
The corridor outside York's apartment is the corridor outside Walter Neff's apartment in Double indemnity.
Both Paramount movies.
Ironically, much of the movies appeal has to do with the fascinating minor characters from Elsa Lanchester as a Greenwich Village painter to Noel Neill (later to become Lois Lane) as the fiesty elevator operator to the taxi drivers, and bartenders and other New York characters who sparkle in their parts.
Rita Johnson, as Laughton's girlfriend, adds a saucy and somewhat spiteful elegance to the movie, the post-war-type career girl on the stairway to success who meets with a violent death. Her role in the death scene is a classic piece of acting, her voice turning icy cold and brutal as she lashes Laughton with her venemous, hard-as-steel verbal whip, telling him he would be, "pathetic if he wasn't so disgusting." The camera zooms in to see the twisted contempt on her face and then switches to Laughton's face as he twitches with rage. Some of her last words are "Don't you realize you can't make any woman happy!" and then the icy and contemptuous, "you flabby! flabby!" and then the murder.
Laughton assures George MaCready that he doesn't know why he killed her saying, "She was one of the most generous women that ever lived," but the audience knows he is lying, having seen his icy coldness collapse to rage before their eyes. This lying excuse displays a characteristic that is very much part of his "Little Napolean" personality of deceit and control.
Laughton's real-life wife, Elsa Lanchester, while having a small part, dominates her scenes with her off-beat, bohemian personality and upper-class British accent filled with laughter and good humor. Her pleasant surprise at the end of the movie is another example of comedy mixed in with film noir and murder..
Elaine Riley, another attractive, post-war career girl, shines in a scene, as Lilly Gold, a talented reporter, when she grabs the bartender by the lapels and tells him in perfect American English to "please shut-up!"
Another great scene takes place when Henry Morgan, Laughton's psychotically silent bodyguard gives him a message. The camera flashes to his psychopathic eyes as he messages Laughton's shoulders giving the viewer a peak of the violent, inner psychology of Laughton's right-hand man.
If your interested in period history, check out the scenes in the upscale Van Barth Hotel bar with the career gals sporting fruit-basket hats of that period that are almost comical in comparison to today's styles. The working class scenes in Bert's Bar are also interesting period pieces of working class Manhattan.
Overall a little gem of a movie that plays strong and forceful even today amongst a swamp of meaningless movies catering to violence and murder.
Top international reviews
The American poet and author Kenneth Fearing produced a bestseller with his first novel, ‘The Hospital’ in 1939, and Paramount bought the movie rights to his 1946 thriller ‘The Big Clock’ before publication, reputedly for $45,000. Their instinct was correct, because the book has provided the basic plot for three separate films over the years. This first film from 1948 is closest to the book’s plot; the French ‘policier’ ‘Police Python 357’ followed in 1976, and the most famous is ‘No Way Out’, with Kevin Costner, from 1987.
This last film manifests as a Cold War spy thriller, but the first is much more squarely in the 1940s Film Noir category, with urban sets, nighttime action and a handsome Femme Fatale, Pauline York. The screenwriter, Jonathan Latimer, also wrote the screenplay for the excellent ‘The Glass Key’, and many ‘Perry Mason’ episodes in the 1960s. This is an atypical Noir however, because the streets are not mean, but well-healed, and most of the action plays out in the fabulous ‘Bauhaus’-style office building of Earl Janoth’s media empire, where the lead character, George Stroud, is the editor of Janoth’s main Crime magazine.
Director John Farrow gives us a supremely stylish film. The female leads, Pauline, and Stroud’s wife, Georgette, are both striking women (Georgette is played by Farrow’s wife, Maureen O’Hara), and both are dressed in exquisitely elegant suits. Janoth Publications is housed in a gorgeous modernist building, and the extensive sets keep to the theme, with decor and furnishings all oozing quality and chic. The cinematography and lighting are impeccable, both outside and during interior scenes, using the vast office sets, and in particular, Janoth’s magnificent lobby clock, to maximum effect.
Farrow was blessed with a first-rate cast. O’Hara, back in movies after having children, is a wonderful mature foil for Ray Milland, as the high-flying Stroud. He is superb, first as he constantly dances to his boss's tune, and then as he begins to understand the implications of what has happened. Charles Laughton, a larger than life figure of British cinema, is magnificent as the larger than life, time-obsessed autocrat, Janoth. There are 2 fascinating cameo roles: Laughton’s real-life wife, the wonderful Elsa Lanchester, gives a deliciously ditzy but knowing performance as an eccentric painter; and Henry Morgan, early in his career, is splendidly creepy, as Janoth’s ‘heavy’.
This is a very superior Noir-style thriller, graced by a pacy, witty script, excellent performances, and flawless production values. An under-valued gem.
The film is not called "The Big Clock" for nothing. Watch, to find out why.
A publishing magnate, Charles Laughton, murders his mistress and assigns his crime magazine editor, Ray Milland to solve the crime. This is a race against the clock as Milland inadvertently becomes the subject of the murder investigation, as the clues begin to reveal the suspect matches an all-to-familiar description... his own!
Maureen O'Sullivan (John Farrow's wife) co-stars as Milland's wife in this entertaining often humorous story, this is classic film noir with its intriguing cinematography....With regards to its stylistic quality I think the producers of "Mad Men" must certainly be fans of this film..!
I won't spoil it for you but the film is full of twists and turns that will have you glued to your TV screen, and the ending is absolutely spot-on.
Order it now - you won't regret it.
Ray Milland and Charles Laughton are ideally cast as protagonist and villain, respectively. The supporting roles are filled in nicely, as well.
Director John Farrow's camera is almost always in motion, just like the continuously moving story line.
The music by Victor Young is also very effective.
The opening scene is brilliant, appearing to be one continuous shot outside and inside of an office building.
For those who don't like the downbeat endings of most films noir, this one's for you, as the good guy survives his ordeal.