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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Exceptional crime/suspense yarn has Milland as a crime reporter who's accidentally made himself the fall guy for a murder committed by his editor! Laughton plays the manipulative newsman with all his smarmy prowess. The direction is good, pacing tight, photography excellent. The supporting cast is also excellent and well directed -- particularly memorable are Elsa Lanchester as a small-time artist whose paintings provide witness to the murderer, and Harry Morgan as (believe it or not) the big boss' muscle. Macready also pitches in as Laughton's right hand man who nonetheless refuses to take the fall for the boss himself. Very nice continuity of theme of time, great atmosphere. One of the best of its kind.
"The Big Clock" takes some chances with unusual characters, and with
complicated and sometimes outlandish plot developments, but it holds
together well to produce a generally satisfying, and always interesting,
suspense film. A fine cast makes us both believe in and identify with the
characters, and good direction by John Farrow keeps the film moving, and
blends together what otherwise could have been a lot of incongruous plot
Ray Milland is a vital part of the film's success in his role as George Stroud, the editor of a crime magazine who has an amazing talent for tracking down elusive criminals. Already caught in a conflict between his neglected wife and his domineering employer, Stroud finds himself asked to direct a search for an unknown murderer in a case where, because of a chain of circumstantial evidence, all the clues point back to himself. What the audience knows, but Stroud does not, is that the real killer is his boss, played with panache by Charles Laughton, who is obsessed with time and whose proudest creation is a gigantic clock that dominates the publishing house that he runs. The title refers literally to this clock, and perhaps metaphorically refers to the urgency faced by Milland's character as he fights against time trying to extricate himself from his troubles. Milland nicely underplays all of this, and communicates his dilemmas with a lot of credibility.
The supporting cast is an important part of the film, as they must bring life and credibility to a series of oddball plot elements, and they are all quite good. Especially noteworthy is Elsa Lanchester's performance as an eccentric artist whose paintings become one of the clues to the crime. Lanchester is simply wonderful in her scenes, and the movie would be worth watching over again for those alone.
"The Big Clock" is a good example of a "film noir", and will be most enjoyed by those who are fans of the way films of the genre were made in their heyday. But it would also be a good choice for anyone who likes crime/mystery stories and who is willing to look at the way such films were made in an earlier era. After watching "The Big Clock", you might want to see more of them.
Most filmgoers are probably more familiar with this film's 1987 updating,
"No Way Out", starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. That said, "The Big
Clock", as with most originals which later spawn remakes of one form or
another, is the better film to my mind. It features Ray Milland as a
workaholic crime magazine editor for a ruthless publisher (Charles
Laughton). Milland has developed his own special method of catching
criminals, consisting of glomming onto details that the police disregard as
irrelevant. How little does he suspect that, within 24 hours, that same
method is going to be used against him...
He stays the night at his boss' mistress to sleep off a hangover. When Laughton strolls in for a suprise visit, Milland manages to get away before being IDed, but not before Laughton sees his shadowy figure on the stairs. In a jealous rage, Laughton kills his mistress and later sets about framing the figure he saw...who, unknown to him, is actually the man he's putting in charge of the investigation, Milland! What follows from this setup is one of the most elaborate cat-and-mouse games I have ever seen on celluloid, the key difference here being that the cat has no idea who the mouse is.
The leads are what make this film stand out. Milland was always very good at playing "the man caught in the middle" and this time is no exception. Kirk Douglas once noted in his autobiography, "The Ragman's Son", that whenever Laughton speaks his lines, it's as though the words just suddenly occurred to him rather than reciting something from memory. It's definitely put to good use here; Laughton oozes menace and coldness with no discernable effort. Other notables in the cast include Elsa Lancaster ("Bride of Frankenstein" and Laughton's real-life wife) as an eccentric artist who helps Milland and a then-unknown Harry Morgan as a silent, suspicious bodyguard to Laughton's publisher.
While perhaps not extraordinary in and of itself, "The Big Clock" is still a good film worth watching, buying, and owning.
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.
For some reason (despite a tendency to join forces to protect the first
amendment's freedom of speech), movies tend to make publishers look
venal and awful. Even that most sympathetic of publishers, Charles
Foster Kane, is a megalomaniac (albeit one robbed of a happy
childhood). Look at the news publishers in "Five Star Final" or even
"Unholy Partners"...anything for a story,for circulation, no matter who
gets hurt by the publicity. Look at Walter Burns in all the versions of
"The Front Page". Look at Sydney Kidd (Henry Daniell) in "The
Philadelphia Story". In this film the publisher is a trifle closer to
Charles Foster Kane. Earl Janoth does not own and run a newspaper or a
magazine, but a whole empire of different magazines with names like
"NewsWays" and "CrimeWays". He even centers it in one single building
in New York City. And he has no doubt about his prominence. When his
right hand man (George Macready) suggests he was not recognized by a
witness, Janoth moans (a trifle loud for affect), "Everybody knows me."
This film is a nice combination of film noir and study of a publishing
empire. Kenneth Fearing had worked in advertising in a magazine, and
had an idea of how they actually ran. His novel (which was recently
published in the two volume edition on noir novels in the "Library of
America" series of books) became a best seller and classic of that
field of writing. The movie (with some changes) is a classic too. The
issue of this film is can the hero (Ray Milland) manage to sabotage the
investigation he is ordered by Janoth (Charles Laughton) to conduct,
without Laughton or his ally Macready realizing he is the man they are
seeking. It is done with style and comic timing (thanks to Elsa
Lanchester, Philip Van Zandt, and several other character actors). Even
Laughton and Macready are used for humor, although their characters are
menacing. Macready has just set up the orders for Milland's
investigation, and Milland (confused but trying to buy time), says
"Right." Macready looks at him and says, "What do you mean "Right"?"
And look at Laughton's silent reaction to Lanchester's portrait of the
sort for witness Milland has to find.
This is one film noir that gets better with every new viewing. Watch it by all means.
Remade in 1987 as "No Way Out," the 1948 film "The Big Clock" is a
wonderful suspense film starring Charles Laughton, Ray Milland, George
MacCready, and Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by O'Sullivan's husband,
Earl Janoth (Laughton), the owner of a publishing empire, is a quiet, enigmatic tyrant who loves clocks and has them all over his buildings throughout the country, including a big one in the lobby of his New York building. The clocks everywhere run together on naval observatory time.
Janoth's right-hand man, Steve Hagen (MacCready) does his dirty work for him. When Janoth kills his mistress (Rita Johnson), Hagen cleans up the mess. Janoth is sure he saw someone in the hall when he arrived at his girlfriend's apartment, and feeling that the man can identify him, wants him found and eliminated. He orders his executives to get the man, telling them the person they want is involved in a war contract scheme. One man, George Stroud (Ray Milland), who is heading up the investigation, isn't fooled. He knows that he is the man Janoth is looking for -- and why.
"The Big Clock" is a great cat and mouse story, with Stroud ducking people who saw him in various places with the mistress on the night she was killed. He also attempts to leave the building to find a cab driver when someone who can identify him is standing at the exit with security people.
Milland does an excellent job of being both cool and panicky, and Laughton's underplaying makes the character of Janoth all the more deadly. Maureen O'Sullivan is delightful as the long-suffering Mrs. Stroud, who's never had a honeymoon because of her husband's work. Elsa Lanchester is hilarious as an artist whose painting figures into the story.
My only complaint is that the ending is a tiny bit abrupt, though very amusing.
A really wonderful film for suspense-lovers, Hitchcock-like, and highly entertaining.
The Big Clock, starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, is a great
black and white thriller in every way. Unlike many noirs of it's time,
it's not a B movie. The lighting, sets, talent and camera-work are top
notch. The acting is perfect, as would be expected with a cast like
this. Milland is charming and easy to route for. In fact, I usually
find him kind of stiff - a little to up tight and proper. Here he seems
to be a real guy with real problems. Milland was most famously known
for playing an alcoholic three years earlier. In a kind of nod to that
"lost weekend" there's a fun scene of him going on a bender in
Manhattan - with unforeseen results. Like all noirs, a small wrong
decision becomes a bigger and bigger problem latter on. When Milland
decides to hang out with a hot blonde instead of going home to his
wife, you just know he's gonna get into big trouble. And boy does he.
The big trouble is Laughton.
I've always enjoyed Charles "Capt. Bligh" Laughton. He was such a good actor. In The Big Clock he manages to be fascinating and loathsome playing the media empire kingpin. His character has no morals, and it's fun to watch him work. He clearly enjoyed himself making this film.
Oh, and isn't Elsa Lanchester great as the crazy artist? Everyone know's Lanchester. She wore the most famous hairdos in movie history.
Remade as No Way Out with Costner and Hackman in the leads.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I'm not sure I would categorize it a
noir as much as I would a Mystery/suspense film. But whatever you call
it, I call it a great way to spend 95 minutes. I can't recall a film
that does a better job of building the suspense as this one. I was on
the edge of my seat for the entire last half of the film.
The film makes great use of irony to help achieve this - in that the lead character, George Stroud (Ray Milland), is called upon to search for a wanted man - who turns out to be himself. He is mistakenly believed to be the killer of his boss' mistress, when in reality, it is the boss, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), who is the guilty party. It is a classic cat and mouse game - except that instead of searching for the "Randolph" character, Stroud is actually trying to find the real killer so as to clear his own name.
Stroud is literally surrounded on all sides by people who could identify him as the man who was with the murdered mistress on the night she was killed. He is running for his life within his own office building trying to avoid being identified. I love how the painting and the artist are used in the story. Elsa Lanchester was a true gem and quite a funny character. It's interesting to note that she was married to Charles Laughton. They certainly make an odd pair - especially in light of the fact of his known homosexuality.
Another married couple from the film was actress Maureen O'Sullivan, who played Stroud's wife, and Director John Farrow. They were married for 27 years (until his death) and had 7 children together, including Mia Farrow. Maureen and Mia appeared together in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986).
Overall, a very good movie with a talented cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on poet Kenneth Fearing's suspense novel, THE BIG CLOCK (TBC) is
not only a riveting hunted-man story with a fresh twist, but also a
cautionary tale about what can happen if you let your job dictate your
life: you'll miss your honeymoon and every family vacation; your
marriage will suffer as your loving, understanding wife starts to lose
faith in you and your endless excuses; your family life will be all but
nonexistent; and worst of all, when your controlling, obsessive Boss
From Hell kills someone in a fit of rage, you just might find yourself
suspected of the crime! TBC is a family affair, with director John
Farrow working with wife Maureen O'Sullivan, and real-life husband and
wife Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester again sharing the silver
screen. It's even a reunion of sorts for Ray Milland and composer
Victor Young, the star and scorer of the 1944 chiller THE UNINVITED.
Veteran mystery writer Jonathan Latimer ably adapts Fearing's novel for
the big screen, its blend of suspense, urban cynicism, and smart,
snappy dialogue intact. Some names and plot elements were changed, and
the lovers' quarrel ending in murder, in which each accuses the other
of being a closeted gay, now involves plain old straight infidelity.
Nevertheless, the film's as gripping as the book, sometimes more so. In
Fearing's novel, our hero George Stroud talks about the "big clock"
which inevitably runs our lives no matter what: "Sometimes the hands of
the clock actually raced, and at other times they hardly moved at all.
But that made no difference to the big clock...all other watches have
to be set by the big one, which is even more powerful than the
calendar, and to which one automatically adjusts his entire life..."
Film being a visual medium, the "big clock" metaphor becomes literal,
with a huge clock/globe that tells you the time anywhere in the world,
and lots of little clocks sprinkled all over the headquarters of Janoth
Publications, a Henry Luce/Time-Warner-style magazine empire whose
periodicals include ace editor George's magazine CRIMEWAYS, as well as
AIRWAYS, NEWSWAYS, SPORTWAYS, STYLEWAYS, etc.
Set in 1948 NYC, TBC introduces us to George (Milland) via our anxious hero's innermost thoughts as he hides in the giant clock in the Janoth Publications lobby at night (DP John Seitz's "docu-noir" style works beautifully). In flashbacks, we see that despite being married for seven years, George and wife Georgette (O'Sullivan) have never had a honeymoon. Seems that Janoth (Laughton) hired George for CRIMEWAYS after he cracked a major murder case on his old newspaper in Wheeling, WV, and the control freak hasn't given George a day off since, always snatching the Stroud family's vacations from under them at the very last minute. (George and Georgette have a little boy, George Jr. -- how cutesy can you get? :-)). With the prestige and great salary CRIMEWAYS affords him, George has always been reluctant to say "No" to Janoth, especially since the publisher doesn't take kindly to being turned down, but our hero is getting fed up. So is Georgette, who sadly notes, "Sometimes I think you married that magazine instead of me...We're like two strangers sharing an apartment..." Janoth's mistress, Pauline York (played with soigné insouciance by Rita Johnson), overhears George bellyaching to Janoth's right-hand man, Steve Hagen (George Macready) about his treatment at Janoth's hands. At the Van Barth bar, Pauline tries to involve George in a blackmail scheme targeting Janoth, but George isn't interested until he finally stands up to Janoth, gets himself fired and blackballed, and drowns his sorrows at the bar with Pauline, only to realize too late that he missed his train and his disappointed family left for West Virginia without him. It's LOST WEEKEND time as the tipsy George and Pauline go on a bar crawl, including Burt's Place, where they pick up a metal sundial from the barkeep's collection of bric-a-brac, and an antique shop where they outbid an eccentric woman (the scene-stealing Lanchester) for a painting.
Unlike their affair in the book, in the film George and Pauline's relationship ends abruptly, with him waking up fully-clothed on her couch. Seeing Janoth's car on the street, Pauline hustles the dazed George out the door. Alas, Janoth is outside waiting for his turn with her. Though he doesn't see George's face as he slips out of sight, Janoth still suspects the worst. He lets Pauline have it, bludgeoning her with the heavy sundial, killing her instantly. The tight close-ups on the quarreling lovers' angry faces, especially Janoth's (nobody's jowls quiver like Charles Laughton's!), add enough intensity to make up for the bowdlerized argument. The desperate Janoth gets a brainwave: he'll have Steve rig the clues to misdirect suspicion, and he'll recruit the crack staff of CRIMEWAYS to track down the culprit, catching a killer and boosting magazine sales at the same time, led by none other than George Stroud! George can't turn Janoth down now; by leading the investigation, he can do a little misdirecting himself, buying time to find the real killer as the tension mounts and the bar crawl comes back to haunt him he's doing double duty as both cat and mouse! Milland's performance balances suavity, sympathy, and desperation. He and O'Sullivan ring true as a loving couple whose relationship is being sorely tested. Laughton is marvelously odious and sadistic with a pathetic undercurrent. Macready makes a stylishly devious right-hand man. The supporting cast includes a silent, sinister young Harry Morgan as a masseur-cum-henchman, Douglas Spencer of THE THING... fame as CRIMEWAYS reporter Bert Finch (not to be confused with Burt from Burt's Place, played by Frank Orth :-), and the ever-jolly Lloyd Corrigan as a radio actor who can play just about any character, including the bogus suspect known only as "Jefferson Randolph." TBC has been reworked twice, as 1987's NO WAY OUT and 2003's OUT OF TIME. They're both entertaining, but TBC is still my favorite version of the story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An effete, continental businessman (Ray Milland trying to go American
but unable to suppress his accent) is drawn into some murderous
intrigue by two effete, continental villains (MacReady and Laughton)
within the glamorous world of magazine publishing. Like another viewer
here, I was excited to finally be putting this disk into my DVD player.
My interest stemmed from the noir angle; but this is immature noir,
more like Film Moderne. The movie parades slick objects past the
camera, instead of making slick imagery out of commonplace settings, as
noir does. It's a throwback to '30s Deco/luxe movies (moreso even than
'This Gun for Hire') with swanky drawing rooms, polite society,
fey/snide villains, a generic love relationship with a 'good girl'
(soooo NOT noir), and a middle-gray palette. A viewer wouldn't be
surprised if Margaret Dumont or Fred Astaire showed up. There's no
ambiguity, no dark palette, no dramatic lighting, and no strikingly
composed frames. This is conventional, retrograde stuff, even for 1948.
It's really ruined in its first minutes. The movie works a dozen clocks into its plot, but the strongest image is right at the beginning: Milland, trapped inside an enormous moderne lobby clock. If it starts that well, it must be pretty good right? Unfortunately the rest of the production is a gloss... It never shows us anything better. Clocks are repeatedly invoked but only as a gimmick, not an idea. 'Clock' could really use the jolt of energy and forward momentum usually supplied by 'the tough guy,' a type noticeably missing here. The box art shows Milland holding a gun, an item which never comes within 10 feet of him in the movie. The big difference between 'The Big Clock' and a good noir, is that a good noir is involving. 'Ray Milland' and 'involving' don't seem to occupy the same universe.
The Coens borrowed this entire milieu for The Hudsucker Proxy.
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