The Big Clock is a 1948 thriller about a race against time; a manhunt where the protagonist is essentially hunting himself. Does that sound complicated? Well, the plot is complex but it never becomes incomprehensible.
George Stroud (Ray Milland) is the overworked editor of a crime magazine who yearns for a holiday with his family. Just when this seems in sight his boss, time-obsessed media tycoon Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), insists that he postpone his vacation and follow up on a breaking news story. In a fit of pique, he tenders his resignation and ends up spending a drunken evening with Janoth’s mistress. While exiting the girl’s apartment Stroud sees his boss arriving, while the boss sees only a silhouette. Goaded into a rage by the mistress, Janoth clubs her to death. On the advice of his reptilian chief executive (George Macready) he now plans to pin the deed on the shadowy stranger he glimpsed in the corridor. To this end, Stroud is recalled to co-ordinate the manhunt.
This is a great suspenseful picture, and you really sense Milland’s mounting horror as he is forced to use his own investigative team and techniques to gradually build up a profile of the mystery man; a man who he knows better than anyone. The two principal female roles are taken by Maureen O’Sullivan (who was married to director John Farrow) as Stroud’s wife, and Rita Johnson as the ill-fated mistress. I always enjoy anything with that inveterate scene stealer Charles Laughton, and he gives one of his more restrained performances here. There are lots of familiar faces in the support cast, not least Laughton’s real life spouse Elsa Lanchester as an eccentric artist and her turn damn near steals the whole show. Harry Morgan also shows up as a darkly menacing gunman on Janoth’s payroll, made all the more sinister by the fact that his character utters not a word on screen. Seasoned noir watchers may also recognise Harold Vermilyea who remains forever memorable, for me at least, as the doomed Waldo Evans from Sorry, Wrong Number.
If the plot to this movie seems slightly familiar that may be due to the fact that it was remade in the 80’s as No Way Out, with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman in the Milland and Laughton roles respectively. That film was not bad but, to my mind at least, not a patch on the original – isn’t that usually the case?
The Big Clock is available in R1 as part of the now, apparently, defunct Universal Noir line. If any fans of classic noir/suspense don’t already own this, I can only ask – Why?
12 thoughts on “The Big Clock”
Hi Colin. I love this movie and was fortunate enough to see a very good print at the NFT years ago which is certainly the best I’ve ever seen it look. On re-watching my R1 DVD found it a bit murky-looking frankly, especially in the darkened opening sections. I was wondering if you had had a chance to look at the R2 from Odeon in terms of PQ?
I never bothered with the Odeon release of this one Sergio. To be quite honest, I haven’t watched the movie since I posted the review, and that’s four years ago!
I didn’t think there were any major issues with the transfer – at least I see I didn’t mention any – but I’d really need to go back and check it again.
The really annoying thing with Odeon releases, and those from British companies in general, is that they rarely get reviewed on the net. Finding out about PQ usually involves taking a chance and buying the DVD blind.
Absolutely agree with you Colin – and several of the Odean titles reviewed are criticised as being rather unimpressive PAL transfers from NTSC masters which is never encouraging! I did get FALCON TAKES OVER on the off chance and I thought it was fine, but it was, I think, just the BBC transfer (the Beeb of course own the UK broadcast rights to the RKO library). Perfectly acceptable, but no better than my recording from TV …
With Odeon, I think it basically comes down to what master they’re handed. The few Falcon films they’ve released thus far have been ok to my eyes, and since I don’t have off-air recordings I’m happy enough.
Generally, I’m pleased that they are putting out stuff at all, and they are a reasonable alternative to high priced MOD discs. I was satsfied with The Locket, Experiment Perilous and Fallen Sparrow – better than the continental alternatives and, I believe, similar in quality to the Archive discs.
I bought the Warner Archive version of THE LOCKET before the Odeon DVD came out and I wish I’d waited because, as you say, I think the quality was basically comparable but the price points very far apart … Do you know if ALIAS NICK BEAL ever come out? That’s a real Farrow favourite and I used to have VHS I recorded from TV once upon a time – really great movie.
As far as I know, that’s still unreleased. It’s a Universal picture, isn’t it? That one, along with Ride the Pink Horse, The Naked Alibi and The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (the Spanish disc is quite poor) are notable absences for me.
As far as I know NICK BEAL is, like big clock, part of the Paramount library now handled by Universal. Never seen NAKED ALIBI actually …
The Naked Alibi isn’t the greatest movie by anybody’s standards, but it does have Sterling Hayden and Gloria Grahame.
It’s in my Netflix queue now, my friend. Fine and intriguing review, Colin. Thanks.
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I really need to watch this one. Saw the first 10-15 minutes once and that was it. I think it was back in the rum zombie days! Thank goodness I don’t touch the stuff anymore. Sure helps the memory!!!!!
If you’ve not seen it all the way through, then you really should try to set that right. It’s an excellent movie and one I need to get back to myself – it’s been an absolute age since I last watched it.