The Big Clock (Universal Noir Collection)
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Just 24 hours ago his life was perfect. Oscar-winning Best Actor Ray Milland stars in this smart and stylish thriller based on Kenneth Fearing's novel and precursor to 1987's No Way Out starring Kevin Costner. Milland portrays hotshot crime magazine editor George Stroud, who inadvertently becomes the subject of a murder investigation after spending an evening with his boss' (Charles Laughton) mistress. She ends up dead and he is being framed by the actual killer. Meanwhile, at the publishing office, Stroud's competent staff scurries for clues while he finds himself in a race against the clock. It seems the prime suspect they are seeking matches an all-too-familiar description…his own! Maureen O'Sullivan and George Macready co-star in this richly told, often humorous story The New Yorker hailed as "slick and entertaining." Known for its intriguing film noir cinematography and featuring beautiful costumes by Edith Head, this is one suspense classic you won't want to miss.
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Top Customer Reviews
Some great noir elements -- the first few scenes takes the audience through real life New York City and into a complex building, a stage crafted separate universe, dominated by a gigantic clock that doesn't really serve any purpose in the plot -- even when it stops, and stops a smaller clock. But the effects are excellent, including shots of the searchers from above, the complex control panel, the circular staircase down which a bad guy tumbles.
Most of the scenes take place in this office universe, with few excursions to "real life" -- three stock photos of a plane flying to and from West Virginia to a room in the woods, a couple of real bars, two separate apartments -- sort of little journeys out of office -- but soon the audience is taken back to the office.
Out of this cozy situation of a guy trying to square himself, even though he is thoroughly innocent and knows perfectly who the murderer is, Scriptwriter Jonathan Latimer and Director John Farrow have fetched a film which is fast-moving, humorous, atmospheric and cumulative of suspense. No doubt there are holes in the fabric—even a rip or two, perhaps—and the really precision-minded are likely to spot them the first time around. But the plot moves so rapidly over them and provides such absorbing by-play that this not-too-gullible observer can't precisely put his finger upon one. (That's why we urge your close attention—just to see if there is anything to catch.)
As the self-protection clue-collector, Ray Milland does a beautiful job mixing sophisticated hunter and desperate quarry at the same time.
Charles Laughton is sadistic, cruel and self absorbed as the publisher murderer -- I'm not giving anything away here -- we know from the moment of death who does the murder.
George Macready is brilliant as his henchman -- he reminded me of "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous." Laughton learns that lesson too late and suffers grievously as a result.
Maureen O'Sullivan is sweet, remarkably loyal, and in a real way saves her husband.
Elsa Lanchester is a crack-pot painter -- her delivery of the image of the perp is absolutely brilliant film making. I can hear her laugh -- high pitched, eccentric as I write these words.
Douglas Spencer as a barman epitomizes all Irish bar tenders in a charming and delightful way.
Frankly, I can't think of one of the actors who doesn't turn in a less than workman like job, and most do much better.
Loved it. Except for the pot weaknesses, this would be a five star review.
Robert C. Ross
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.
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