Sunday, May 26, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Big Clock (1948) - An Arrow Academy Blu-ray Review

The terrific crime thriller THE BIG CLOCK (1948) has just been released by Arrow Academy on a beautiful Blu-ray.

I first reviewed THE BIG CLOCK here a decade ago and was fortunate to see it on a big screen a few years ago in Palm Springs at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

This is definitely a film worthy of revisiting with some regularity; while the plot may no longer hold surprises on repeat viewings, my appreciation for star Ray Milland's performance and the film's great style deepens each time I see it.

Milland plays George Stroud, who holds a senior position at Janoth Publications. Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) is the overly controlling, manipulative man behind the company, which publishes magazine titles such as Styleways, Sportways, Airways, Newsways, and, most importantly for our story, Crimeways, where George is editor.

George has a big problem unfold when he misses meeting his wife (Maureen O'Sullivan) for a long-promised train trip and ends up getting drunk alongside Janoth's mistress Pauline (Rita Johnson). Pauline later turns up dead, and George and his staff are tasked with solving the crime. George's problem is twofold: He was the last person seen with Pauline, so the hunt is actually on for himself...and the real culprit is his boss.

If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, the story was also loosely used in the Kevin Costner film NO WAY OUT (1987), with Costner trapped in the Pentagon. While the Pentagon was an inspired choice as a setting, it still can't compete with the gorgeous Art Deco building of this movie, dominated by a huge lobby clock. (When a tourist asks what happens if the clock is wrong, the answer is "Mr. Janoth wouldn't allow it!") One of my favorite things about the movie is the different "looks" as the elevator door opens on each magazine's floor. The set design is terrific "eye candy" from start to finish.

I loved film historian Foster Hirsch's description of THE BIG CLOCK when I saw it in Palm Springs; he said then that the film is "about control and what will happen if people lose it," also noting that while everyone works in an environment dominated by the title clock, the characters "can't regulate themselves." Janoth is a man so controlling that he monitors a light bulb being left on in a broom closet for several days and insists the person responsible have their pay docked...yet when it came to something like murder, he found it impossible to control himself. Although one could flip that and say that he exercised the ultimate control over someone else in killing Pauline.

Laughton is almost difficult to watch, with his creepy affectations such as running his finger over his mustache; at least it makes it easy to root against him. Laughton's real-life wife Elsa Lanchester provides delightful comic relief as an artist who improbably becomes George's ally. George Macready and Harry Morgan are on hand and appropriately spooky as Janoth's henchmen; Macready plays an executive who's a smooth operator, while Morgan is a silent "enforcer" type who always seems to be looking over George's shoulder.

I'd forgotten that Elaine Riley is an investigative reporter working for George; she's wearing glasses here in a still of magazine employees working on the case. Riley, who appeared in a number of "B" Westerns, was long married to Richard Martin ("Chito" of Tim Holt's RKO Westerns).

Also in the large cast: Dan Tobin, Theresa Harris, Frank Orth, Lloyd Corrigan, and Richard Webb. Ruth Roman is said to be a secretary at a meeting but I have trouble picking her out; however, I definitely noticed Bess Flowers as one of the attendees.

The film runs a well-paced 95 minutes. It was directed by John Farrow; incidentally, although O'Sullivan was married to Farrow, she was required to try out for her part!

The film was shot in black and white by Daniel L. Fapp and John F. Seitz. It was written by Jonathan Latimer based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing.

The Arrow Blu-ray print looks wonderful, showing off the film's stylish settings to perfection. It was a real pleasure to view it.

The plentiful extras include the trailer, an informative audio commentary by Adrian Martin, new featurettes, a stills gallery, and the 1948 Lux Radio Theater broadcast starring Ray Milland, Maureen O'Sullivan, and William Conrad (in Laughton's role); Jeff Chandler is also in the voice cast, playing two different roles.

The first pressing from Arrow will also include a collector's booklet with an essay by Christina Newland which was not included in the advance copy I reviewed. Reversible cover art will also be available on the final retail edition.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Arrow Academy for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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