When powerful publishing tycoon Earl Janouth commits an act of murder at the height of passion, he cleverly begins to cover his tracks and frame an innocent man, whose identity he doesn't know, but who just happen to have contact with the murder victim. That man is a close associate on his magazine whom he enlists to trap this "killer" George Stroud. It's up to George to continue to "help" Janouth, to elude the police and to find proof of his innocence and Janouth's guilt. Written by
At the magazine staff meeting right after an investigator has visited Louise Patterson and gotten the name of "the blonde woman", the shadow of the boom microphone can be seen moving on the upper left of the chalkboard frame. See more »
[after George Stroud outbids her for a picture]
Isn't it a pity... the wrong people always have money.
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When reviewing films like The Big Clock the usual temptation for reviewers is to say it's all right, but Alfred Hitchcock could have done it better. I'm prone to that comment myself.
But I can't see how Hitchcock could have done it better in this case. The plot is complicated, but not so that you get bogged down. It defies encapsulation, but briefly Charles Laughton, a Rupert Murdoch like publisher back in the day kills his mistress Rita Johnson. Earlier that day Johnson had picked up Ray Milland who is the editor of one of Laughton's publications Crimeways magazine and had a night on the town with him.
Laughton sees someone leaving Johnson's apartment, it's Milland, but Laughton only glimpses and can't identify him before killing Johnson. With the help of his right hand man George MacReady, Laughton tries to find the stranger to pin the murder on him and enlists Milland to do it. Milland realizes what the game is and it's quite a duel of wits between two very intelligent people.
Milland, though directed by John Farrow here, is a typical Hitchcock hero trapped by circumstances and desperately looking for a solution. It's possible that Hitchcock saw this film and had Milland in mind for one his films and he did eventually use him in Dial M for Murder.
Laughton covers some familiar ground here. He's a powerful man with a fetish for punctuality. The title of the film refers to The Big Clock in the lobby of his skyscraper in New York. It runs on naval observatory time and is also running in tandem with all the clocks in all the buildings that Janoth publications has in the country. In fact it's Johnson's lateness that sets him off in their confrontation. And Milland throws him off his game by stopping The Big Clock in the lobby.
The closest role that Laughton played to Earl Janoth here has to be Inspector Javert in Les Miserables. Both are complete anal retentives, with Javert it's the law, with Janoth its time. Javert has no personal life, Janoth apparently can't handle one. And with both only an actor of great talent and skill like Charles Laughton can make you be repelled by his actions and still feel some sympathy for him.
The Big Clock holds up very well today and I wish it would be remade and could be. It was with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman in No Way Out with the setting now the Pentagon. I'd like to see it updated and keep it in a civilian setting. Though I doubt it would be as good as the Laughton/Milland version.
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