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The Big Clock (Universal Noir Collection)
The Big Clock
Universal Noir Collection
Actors: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2004     1hr 35min



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Movie Details

Actors: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Classics, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Universal Studios
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/06/2004
Original Release Date: 04/09/1948
Theatrical Release Date: 04/09/1948
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 35min
Screens: Black and White,Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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Member Movie Reviews

Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 10/24/2010...
The Big Clock keeps ticking despite the implausibilities

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The Big Clock' features Ray Milland, as George Stroud, an editor/investigator of a crime magazine. Stroud's boss is mega-publisher Earl Janoth, played by Charles Laughton, who hams it up as the arrogant mover and shaker of a publishing empire. Janoth is obsessed with time and has a giant clock installed at company headquarters, a modern high-rise, where the big clock controls all the other clocks in the building. Most critics will agree that 'The Big Clock' starts off quite slowly in its first thirty minutes. During the slow-moving exposition scenes, we learn that Stroud is Janoth's best employee, solving various crimes with the aid of his staff—they rely on a bulletin board which Stroud utilizes to organize various clues garnered during the course of their investigations. We also learn that Stroud is on the verge of quitting his job since Janoth will not give him the time to take the honeymoon he never had with his wife.

The story begins to shift into high gear when George finally tenders his resignation but misses his train to meet his wife for the honeymoon. Instead he gets drunk with Janoth's mistress, Pauline York, and ends up at her apartment. Janoth shows up and George makes a quick exit; neither of the men can identify one another. Janoth and Pauline argue and Janoth kills her with the sundial which George purchased earlier at a bar. Janoth then enlists his right-hand man, Steve Hagen, to help him cover up the crime by ordering his staff to investigate the illusory 'Jefferson Randolph' (the name Pauline concocted and the person who Janoth ended up believing left her apartment right before he killed her). Janoth then orders George to return to work and find Randolph. George has no choice to comply with Janoth's order after realizing he may be implicated in the murder (Janoth mentions the inscription on the base of the sundial is from the bar where George purchased it).

The tension in the plot grows exponentially as George must prevent his staff from believing that Randolph might be him. George locates a cabdriver who gives him information about another cabdriver who drove Janoth to Pauline's apartment the night of the murder. But Janoth finds the cabbie first (offscreen) and pays him off. After an antique dealer (who sold George a painting during his drunken night out on the town with Pauline) spots him in the Janoth Publication's Building, George must do everything he can to prevent himself from being identified by this man. To make matters worse, it just so happens that the artist, Louise Patterson (Elsa Lanchester), who painted the painting George bought at the antique store, was at the store that night and haggled with George over its purchase. She shows up at Janoth company headquarters and tells Janoth she is willing to draw a picture of the man who bought the painting at the antique store for a price. It turns out that George gets to her first and promises to compensate her for the painting. As the comic relief, Louise does draw the man's portrait for Janoth but it's in the style of an abstract Picasso!

The climax of the story finds George in Hagen's office along with his wife and one of his pals from the bar where George lifted the sundial (later used as the murder weapon). A handkerchief which Pauline took from the bar is found in Hagen's cigar box so George accuses Hagen of the murder. Hagen manages to concoct various alibis until George's associate mentions that he saw Hagen return the murder weapon to the bar. Hagen no longer is willing to take the rap for Janoth and informs his boss that he'll turn him into the police. Janoth shoots Hagen and then tries to escape via the elevator but falls down an empty shaft (George kept the elevator cab on a lower floor after climbing out of the shaft and fiddling with the controls, preventing the cab from moving).

Some have referred to The Big Clock as a 'film noir'. Certainly the film has noirish elements (dig some of the dark cinematography), but really shouldn't be classified as a true film noir. While Pauline York can be viewed sort of as a 'femme fatale' (her numerous affairs are alluded to), she doesn't lead the protagonist to his doom (George is more responsible for getting himself in trouble during his drunken foray on the night of the murder). More importantly, the protagonist, ends up prospering at the end. Think of a classic noir such as 'Double Indemnity' in which the protagonist (Fred MacMurray), the hapless insurance agent, ends up dead after committing a murder with the help of Barbara Stanwyck's quintessential femme fatale.

Some have argued that the big clock is a powerful image as it symbolizes Janoth's megalomania. To me it's a rather obvious symbol and an awkward one at that. The big clock itself really doesn't figure directly in the plot. Contrast that with the 'The Stranger', where the clock is integral to the narrative (Orson Welles, who plays a Nazi war criminal, ends up impaled by a statue's protruding sword, which moves as a result of a clock striking at the appointed hour).

After the slow-moving introduction, the Big Clock picks up and holds your interest for the rest of the film. Despite the good entertainment, the story hinges on the police not finding the body. You would think that one of the victim's friends would have attempted to contact her since she was missing for such a long period of time. Had the police found the body, all the machinations back at the office could not have occurred.

The Big Clock is also worth watching for the trivia: watch for Noel Neal (TV's Lois Lane in the 50s) as an uncredited elevator operator. And Director John Farrow was Mia Farrow's father! There are other stories about the cast of this film well worth investigating.

Movie Reviews

Well Done Noir, Well Worth Watching
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/03/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is not, in my opinion, one of the great noirs, but it tells a fast-paced, well-acted story with style, tension and humor. Ray Milland plays George Stroud, dynamic editor of a crime magazine, one of many in Earl Janoth's (Charles Laughton) publishing empire. Through circumstances, he meets Laughton's mistress one evening. She later is killed. Janoth puts Stroud in charge of tracking down the murder to get an exclusive for the magazine...(not much of a spoiler ahead; the killing is shown early)...and to cover the fact that Janoth was the killer. Milland is quickly set up to take the fall.

Milland was edging into middle age and this added to the authority he brought to the role. Although he still had the charm and light comedy springingness, he is believable as a quick-thinking potential victim.

Laughton is first rate. In a couple of scenes he scurries to the elevator or across a hall and looks like a fat, dangerous spider. He helps define Janoth's character as an indulgent, morally corrupt egoist by touching his mouth and grooming a small, ridiculous moustache with a little finger.

Rita Johnson plays the mistress and is terrific. She's shrewd, sexy and sophisticated. She didn't have much of a career and, according to IMDb, apparently had a death worthy of a noir movie.

George Macready plays a smart, cold, condescending lawyer whose ethics are flexible. His range may have been be limited, but Macready was one of Hollywood's great character actors.

You might be able to find an old, used paperback of the book by Kenneth Fearing. He was a good poet who never made it. In the three or four mystery/novels he wrote he uses the device of having the characters speak for themselves in the first person, each to his or her own chapter. It takes getting used to but it becomes quite effective. Dagger of the Mind and The Loneliest Girl in the World also are very good and also, I suppose, long out of print. If you like mysteries (or dead American poets), give him a Google.

Kevin Costner's No Way Out was based on the book and this movie. In the ring, I'd give Milland over Costner on points by a wide margin; Laughton over Hackman on points but close; Macready over Patton by a knockout in the sixth; and Johnson over Sean Young by a knockout in the first. And this version over the other by a knockout in the fifth. No Way Out's conclusion is, for me, unsatisfying because it drains sympathy from the Costner hero. In The Big Clock, the ending is satisfyingly concluded with an elevator shaft and, later, a hug and a laugh.

The DVD transfer is quite good considering the age of the movie, and shouldn't be a reason for not getting the movie."
The Clock's Ticking!
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 10/09/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"John Farrow's "The Big Clock" is one of the great noir films of the 40's. The downside is many people have 1) rarely seen it. 2) Many haven't even heard of it! Ray Milland stars as George Stroud a man who as the film goes on will have to track down a murderer when all the clues lead to one man, him! How can he prove his innocence. And how will he get anyone to believe him? These are the interesting questions that arise as you watch this film.
George Stroud (Milland) works for a publication that somehow manages to break cases before the police do. He is also suppose to go on his honeymoon with his wife Georgette (Maureen O' Sullivan) which is long overdue ( they now have a 5 year old son!). But, his boss Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) wants him to postpone his honeymoon. Claiming he'll give him higher pay and a month's vaction. But George knows his wife will kill him if he's not there ready to leave with her lol. Now, one thing leads to another ( I don't want to give anyway too much of the plot). But George ends up missing his train and spends the night with Janoth's mistress! Later on that night, he finds that Janoth's mistress is dead! Was it murder? Well, all directions point that way since George saw Janoth go into Pauline York's (Rita Johnson) apartment. In an attempt to cover up his actions, Janoth tells George he has to solve the case before the police get involved. "The Big Clock" has a great musical score by Victor Young, nice cimatography by Daniel L. Fapp & John F. Seitz. And, fammed costume designer Edit Head does wonderful work. All of these things give this movie the "classic" noir feel to it. There are good, solid performances by everyone, and nice directing by Farrow. This is a very pleasurable film to watch on one of those rainy, dark nights, that just feels like watching a noir film. One of the best noir films I've ever seen."
Ray Milland and Charles Laughton in absorbing 40's thriller
C. Roberts | Halifax, Yorkshire, United Kingdom | 07/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"It is a real pleasure to rediscover obscure films from years ago which are still of interest today and "The Big Clock" (made in 1948) falls into this category and is well worth seeing again. At the start of this compelling thriller we find Ray Milland hiding in the "Big Clock" of the title wondering to himself how he ever got involved in murder and deception when he is just a hard working married man devoted to his family and career and completely innocent of any crime. As was usual in forties films at that time we now go into a lengthy flashback which explains everything. Ray Milland plays George Stroud who is the crime editor for "Crimeways Magazine" which specialises in solving real life crimes. Charles Laughton is Earl Janoth, head of the Janoth publishing empire which produces many successful magazines including "Crimeways". George accidentally meets up with Pauline York (Rita Johnson) in a bar unaware that she knows Janoth and is in fact his mistress - George spends the evening with her and goes back to her apartment. Unfortunately he is seen with the girl in several places quite publicly so when she is later found dead in her apartment Stroud finds himself falling under suspicion. Janoth forces Stroud to investigate the case but his personal involvement with the girl means that many witnesses can identify him as being with her on the night she was murdered. He has to use all his investigative skills to keep himself in the clear and track down the real murderer. Wife Georgette Stroud (Maureen O'Sullivan) is not very sympathetic as she is anxious to take the family on holiday (and plans to do so with or without George). Elsa Lanchester has a very good cameo role as Louise Patterson, an eccentric artist who plays a significant part in the unfolding drama. "The Big Clock" has a first rate supporting cast including George Macready, Harry Morgan, Lloyd Corrigan, Philip Van Zandt, Richard Webb and Dan Tobin. The film was directed by John Farrow who also made "Where Danger Lives" and "His Kind of Woman" (both with Robert Mitchum).Some favourite lines from the film:Ray Milland: "More guards, the lobby's sewed up like a sack - and they said shoot to kill. They mean you George, you. How'd I get into this rat race anyway, I'm no criminal - what happened - when did it all start?".Milland (to Charles Laughton): "Wouldn't you steal something if you wanted it badly enough?".Laughton (to George Macready): "Everybody knows me".Elsa Lanchester (to Milland): "Never mind, Mr Stroud, I've few enough collectors without sending one to jail".Charles Laughton won the Best Actor Oscar in 1932 for his role in "The Private Life of Henry VIII". Laughton was a very distinguished British actor who appeared in many prestigious films and directed the splendid "Night of the Hunter" in 1955. Ray Milland deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar for "The Lost Weekend" (directed by Billy Wilder in 1945). Milland had a long and successful career both as an actor and later as a director. Maureen O'Sullivan is best known for her role as "Jane" in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films. She was married to John Farrow (director of "The Big Clock") and one of her daughters is of course the actress Mia Farrow."