The Big Clock - CoverArrow Video’ have recently released a digitally enhanced version of the 1948 film noir classic, ‘The Big Clock’. It was directed by John Farrow; it stars Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Elsa Lanchester; and it’s 96-minutes long. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-Ray edition comes with audio commentary provided by Adrian Martin, a theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, a rare hour-long 1948 radio dramatization by the Lux Radio Theatre, as well as two visual essays narrated by Adrian Wootton and Simon Callow. Please enjoy.

The Big Clock [Blu-ray]

36 hours ago, I was a happily married man with a beautiful wife, a lovely kid, and a great job as an editor for a popular magazine called ‘Crimeways’. But now, now I’m confused, I’m really confused, because I’ve just been instructed to search for a missing person who might actually be me: George Stroud (Ray Milland).

Well, to cut a long story short, a few nights back I got cold, stone, drunk, and ended up making a right fool of myself. So much so, in fact, that the very next day I received a phone call from my boss, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), who asked me to look for someone who did the exact same things I did the night before. This includes getting drunk at the same bar, buying the same painting by Louise Patterson (Elsa Lanchester), and befriending the same glamour model, Pauline York (Rita Johnson), who I highly suspect is no longer with us. 

Yes. That’s correct. I think Pauline is dead. Very dead. But I didn’t do it, and neither did anyone else we bumped into along the way. But then again, that’s most probably why what next transpires start sniff, sniff, sniffing for clues, when I go looking for someone who isn’t real. As a team of reporters flies like a flock - a bunch of suspects talks a lot of crock - a guilty party cares more about stock - and at the end of the day, tick-tock, tick-tock, let’s get ready to dismantle that clock.

At face value, ‘The Big Clock’ may come across like a fairly conventional film. After all, most of the characters are archetypal by nature, some of the sets are Deco by design, and overall, the basic thrust of the story is one part funny, one part thrilling, and one part very captivating to watch. But, upon closer inspection, and you may start to realize that this film isn’t a conventional film. If anything, it’s a fairly unconventional film, bordering on the bizarre, largely due to the way certain characters behave in a slightly unorthodox fashion.

The Big Clock - Poster
Well, without giving too much away, don’t you think it’s rather strange that an artist would purposely buy back her own paintings? Especially if she didn’t have to! Or for that matter, isn’t it weird hearing a caring wife applaud her husband for quitting his job? Keeping in mind that her husband is a top-level journalist who’s secretly preventing his colleagues from investigating what he did the previous night! I mean, it all sounds rather eccentric, doesn’t it? Or at the very least, wacky to the point of being silly! But, the strange thing is, is that this film isn’t silly. Not totally, anyway. Yet it does manage to capitalize on these oddball antics by logically explaining them away. In fact, this movie is so logical, both tonally as well as contextually, that the only bad thing I can say about it, is that I can’t really call it a proper film noir.

You see, on a visual level, everything seen on the screen appears to conform to the usual film noir conventions, including, voice-over narration (which only happened at the start of the film), a high contrasting lighting scheme (which was particularly apparent during those dramatic sequences), as well as nicely choreographed camera angles and movements (which were usually positioned at extreme inclines). But, that said, on a narrative level, the story in itself deliberately avoided to capitalize on the basic film noir conceit, namely, showing a femme fatale corrupting a man’s principles and turning him towards a life of crime. As a matter of fact, the story wasn’t anything like this at all, because it revolved around a man who had to prove his innocence and avenge a woman’s death! Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, but it’s still well worth mentioning as it goes to show that stylistically this film is a film noir, yet narratively it isn't. Know what I mean?

The Big Clock - Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Rita Johnson

The Big Clock - Poster
Anyway, that’s enough of that for the time being, because now I think we should sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) ‘Paramount Pictures’ first released this production in Detroit, Michigan, on the exact same day Bulgaria and the Soviet Union signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship. It was on the 18th of March, 1948. (2) Loosely translated, this project was entitled ‘The Murderer's Alibi’ in Greece, ‘Game with Death’ in Germany, and ‘The Great Horology’ in Romania. (3) This film was based on a novel of the same name written by Kenneth Fearing and published two years earlier. (4) One of the taglines used to promote this picture, states, ‘Unanimously acclaimed as the super-suspense hit!’. (5) The majority of this movie was shot inside Paramount Studios, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, Los Angeles. (6) Two married couples starred in this film. While one of them was Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton, who played Louise Patterson and Earl Janoth respectively, the other two were Maureen O'Sullivan, who played George’s wife, Georgette, and John Farrow, who directed this production. Plus, on a side note, it’s a little known fact that Maureen and John are also the parents of Mia Farrow, the popular actress. (7) A few months after this film was released, or to be more specific about it, on the 22nd of November, 1948, Ray Milland and Maureen O'Sullivan reprised their roles for a 60-minute radio adaptation broadcast by the "Lux Radio Theater". (8) Following on from this last point, and you might like to know that this story was adapted once again in 1987, but this time it was for the big screen and it was called, ‘No Way Out’, which starred Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, and Sean Young.

In closing my review for ‘The Big Clock’, I would just like to mention how much I enjoyed watching the performances given by every single member of the cast. Seriously, folks, regardless of their status, I got a right kick out of nigh on everyone I saw on screen. Ray Milland, for instance, plays a man chasing his own tail in a very nervous yet stern fashion. Whereas Rita Johnson and Maureen O’Sullivan, on the other hand, each play the yin to the other's yang, even though the former was slightly loose while the latter was more prim and proper. And as for Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester? Well, what can I say about those two superb actors? Apart from them being superb, of course! Although, I suppose I could say that Charles's understated performance gave his egomaniacal character some extra added depth, while Elsa's overstated performance enhanced the comedic aspects associated with her character's artistic traits!

The Big Clock - Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester
Actually, while I’m on the subject of art, this point brings me quite nicely onto the artistic way this film unfolded one scene at a time! After all, for a fairly unconventional film, it did a pretty good job at hiding its unorthodox nature! So, how did it manage to do this? How did it manage to hide the fact that some of this story was a farce, some of this story was taken seriously, and some of this story was a subtle social commentary on liberal ideals? Particularly when you take into consideration that the whole thing was basically an intricate game of cat and mouse between a man and himself!

Well, in no uncertain terms, I think art helped this film disguise its unconventional side. Not the avant-garde art painted by Elsa's character. But rather, the art of storytelling, the art of being able to charm an audience by allowing the plot to unravel in progressive stages, scene, by scene, by scene. This started with a brief glimpse into the future so the audience can see what is yet to come. Then once that was put in place, the story quickly shifted gear to the present day and introduced us to most of the main players, the world these people inhabit, and the idea that something is about to go astray. And after that, the tone shifted once again, but this time it caused the plot to kick into overdrive and layout its ‘dog chasing its own tail’ scenario, which went back and forth, to and fro, between comedy, drama, suspense, and exposition, until slowly, but surely, it eventually reached its emotional crescendo, and, BANG!, everyone’s final fate was revealed in order to put the whole thing to bed. Nuff said. Except that this is a really good film. Night-night.


THE BIG CLOCK (1948) THE BIG CLOCK (1948) Reviewed by David Andrews on May 13, 2019 Rating: 5

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