The Big Clock

Studio: Arrow Academy

May 08, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


George Stroud (Ray Milland) is the editor-in-chief of the country’s most popular crime magazine, having won the coveted position after independently cracking a few big cases through his outside-the-box investigation methods. It’s a highly-respected, well-paying position, but one that’s required his full attention around-the-clock—so much so that he and his neglected wife of seven years (Maureen O’Sullivan) have yet to go on their honeymoon. George’s rag happens to be one of the leading sellers at Janoth Publications, a leading media company run by a Charles Foster Kane-like mogul, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). Janoth’s company is housed in an impressive art deco skyscraper, and its thousands of employees work under a rigid schedule set by the lobby’s striking, state-of-the-art clock.

Released by Paramount in 1948, John Farrow’s The Big Clock straddles the ridge between comedy and thriller like no other film of the era we’ve seen. Without spoiling much at all, our hero eventually finds himself by accident the leading suspect in a murder, and also assigned to investigate it in his role as a crime journalist. As the mounting evidence continues to point more damingly towards him, George must find a way to pin the murder on the true culprit before his colleagues (and the police) pin it on him. With a few well-placed and surprisingly dark twists, an overwhelming tension is established; there’s never any doubt that our hero’s life is in danger.

But in Jonathan Latimer’s clever, fast-paced script—based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing—barbs and one-liners roll off the actors’ tongues like some of the best screwball comedies. Milland’s hard-drinking hero is very much a character in which Jimmy Stewart would have found himself at home, fallible but supremely affable. It’s Laughton, though, as an aloof, lethargic yet fiercely imposing mogul, whose performance anchors the movie. Other wonderful actors of the period turn in memorably colorful performances, including George Macready as Janoth’s loyal lackey, Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric painter/witness, and Lloyd Corrigan as an out-of-work radio drama performer.

And thus, it’s difficult to classify The Big Clock: it can as easily be shelved alongside film noirs as it can in the comedy section, yet it's not a parody of the genre. No matter where you slot it, though, it’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller that also happens to be laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Only a rare few of those were made during Hollywood’s Golden Age—or, well, ever. The Big Clock is truly an unusual gem.

Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray does great justice to the movie’s shadowy, art deco interiors. Extra features include two fantastic visual essays—one focusing on Laughton’s performance, as well as a general, longform analysis of the movie—alongside a full-length commentary, a gallery of promotional materials, and a vintage radio dramatization in which Milland resumed his role. The film alone was enough of a surprise to merit our recommendation, and the insightful extras only bolster the value of this release.

(mvdshop.com/products/big-clock-the-blu-ray)




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