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Soldier Joe Allen is on a two-day leave in New York, and there he meets Alice. She agrees to show him the sights and they spend the day together. In this short time they find themselves falling in love with each other, and they decide to get married before Joe has to return to camp.Written by
Leon Wolters <wolters@strw.LeidenUniv.nl>
A poignant wartime romance that approaches perfection
Maybe the most idyllic of those 40s movies that confected a storybook New York City on the back lots of Hollywood studios, The Clock tells the story of a whirlwind wartime romance so simply and deftly that it's almost mythic like a legend Ovid might have recounted. It also preserves the first adult dramatic role, with nary a note nor a time-step, Judy Garland was to undertake, under the Lubitsch-like touch of her director (and new husband) Vincente Minnelli. Trusting his wife to hold the screen on her own merits, he toned down or tossed away the busy stage business so characteristic of the decade, ending up with something purified close to perfect.
Indiana small-town boy Robert Walker, on a short leave from the Army before being shipped overseas, loiters in Pennsylvania Station when Garland trips over his gangly legs and breaks a heel. It's classic MGM `meet-cute,' but Minnelli doesn't milk it they get the heel fixed and find themselves strolling through Manhattan. Though on the verge of diplomatically ditching him, impatient with his diffident, aw-shucks ways, Garland politely hangs on until finally she has to catch a bus home; she consents to meet him later, under the clock at the Astor Hotel, for a real date.
Her chatterbox of a roommate upbraids her for letting herself be `picked up' by a man in uniform, and Garland dithers but finally shows up half a hour late. They spend a stiff evening together, filled with awkward pauses and edgy moments of friction, but end up talking under the stars in Central Park. Having missed the last bus home, they accept a lift from a milkman. In a sequence that comes close to cliché but pulls up short, they spend the night together delivering bottles throughout the city for their suddenly incapacitated driver. Next morning, they lose one another, thanks to the subway system, ultimately reunite and, after running an obstacle course festooned with red tape, marry, confident that the future will find them reunited once more.
There's not much incident, much action, and what there is Minnelli metes out judiciously. As a drunk who precipitates the incident that throws them together for the night, Keenan Wynn contributes a bravura turn (surely improvised) that teeters on the borderline between funny and obnoxious. As the milkman and his wife, who feeds them a farmhands' breakfast, James and Lucile Gleason offer the young lovers a preview of how young lovers become old friends (as well they might, since the actors were one another's spouses).
Only in the difficulties they encounter in trying to get hitched licenses, blood tests, civil servants' prerogatives does the does the story threaten to careen off into frantic farce. But Minnelli reaches beyond that to find the urgency, the sickening sense that they might fail and Garland heart-wrenchingly sums it up afterwards, at an ominously quiet wedding dinner at an automat, when she cries `It was so...ugly!' But after that discordant note Minnelli, ever the Italian, strives for consonance, and finds it in an empty church where Garland and Walker softly recite the marriage ceremony in a pew. Here, Minnelli adds his own benediction: An altar boy obscures the silent couple, sitting quietly in the background, as he enters to extinguish the candles, one by one.
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