The Big Clock (1948) John Farrow
TGG DVD (double feature with Man of a Thousand Faces)
The title of this film is no accident and is in many ways part of its charm. The Big Clock is just that: composed of a myriad of intricate moving parts, all working together to create something of a marvel, a creation you can watch in awe, no matter how many times you see the second hand move around the dial. The film is a wonder, a thing of beauty.
Although George Stroud (Ray Milland, above left) and his wife Georgette (Maureeen O’Sullivan, above center) have been married for seven years, they’ve never taken a honeymoon due to George’s demanding boss. George is the editor of Crimeways magazine, which is only one title in a long line produced by publishing mogul Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton, below right), the ruler of all he surveys. Janoth himself is a “big clock,” a large man who literally plans his daily activities to the minute and has his employees practically bowing to him whenever he enters a room. Janoth is so obsessed with time, he installs an enormous clock in the skyscraper that bears his name. Janoth allows for no deviations from his clock or his will (which are inseparable from one another). It doesn’t matter whether you’re the elevator operator or Janoth’s mistress (Rita Johnson, above right); Janoth tells you when things will happen to the minute.
Stroud decides that enough is enough. He’s going to take his long-delayed honeymoon with Georgette and doesn’t care that Janoth will both fire and blackball him. But when a murdered woman turns up, Stroud quickly figures out that he’s the person being sought for the crime, although he’s innocent. He not only becomes trapped inside the massive skyscraper, he’s also put in charge of finding that man whose description is his own. I’m not telling you very much here for good reason. Part of the fun of The Big Clock is in not knowing too much too soon and revealing any more would be unforgivable.
The marvel of the film is that so many of its elements work together: you’re served up noir, mystery, melodrama, humor, satire, and more. The Janoth Building is a wonderfully constructed modernist structure that’s both awe-inspiring and soulless. In some scenes, you may be reminded of Metropolis; in others, a prison. Jonathan Latimer’s script sparkles and never hits a false note. The cinematography by Daniel L. Fapp and John F. Seitz combines with John Farrow’s carefully choreographed direction to deliver a film that’s as intricately precise as any well-crafted time piece.
Yet for all this craftsmanship, nothing would work without stellar performances, which we have in spades from Milland (in one of the best roles of his career),Laughton, Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester (as a wonderfully ditzy artist), George Macready, Dan Tobin, and Harry Morgan in a very atypical role. The Big Clock is a highly entertaining noir thriller no matter how you look at it. Don’t miss it.