Saw it before, blogged about it, thought: that was fun. Minor, but fun.
A second viewing revealed a much better movie. First of all, it was remade as "No Way Out," supposedly, but the setting is different; "The Big Clock" takes place at a magazine empire HQ where there is, as you might imagine, a very big clock.
In the book on which the movie's based, the clock is a metaphor . . . for Time! Or rather the relentless, implacable, indifferent mechanism of the universe that grinds ever forward, forcing us to the moment when our own spring winds down. Or something like that. About 37% of all movies in the ate 40s - early 50s has "The Big" as part of the title, so people knew what they were getting - action and suspense. (For that matter, every single episode of "Dragnet" on the radio is "The Big Something" - the Big Mole, the Big Tooth (really), the Big Little Jesus, and so on. This would have been the movie everyone wanted to see, because it was tense and exciting, but d dind't have mobsters or cheap hoods or grimy streets. No, our story plays out in the elegant setting of a lavish office tower, with all the modern trappings:
JRecognize the statue? It's Atlas, from Rockefeller Center.
I'd like to work in a building that had these, thank you:
There are clocks all over the place, but they don't really tie into the story. The evil boss who runs the company is seemingly obsessed with time, but not really. It's a tic. There's a wincingly contrived drunk sequence in which our hero, Ray Milland, plays against type and goes on a blind drunk binge, and talks a lot about "green clocks," which means nothing. The entire drunk sequence takes the film in an unexpected direction, and when Ray ends up in a curio shop arguing with Elsa Lanchester, you wonder where the hell it's all going.
She's doing the flighty-giggle routine here, and it's just an inch short of unbearable. I always found her tiresome. But you usually find her when hubby's in the picture. Yes, the one and only Charles Laughton. He's the evil CEO who runs Janoth Publications. As I keep saying: imagine this on the big screen:
He's having an argument:
. . . back and forth it goes with those two shots, until he snaps, and kills her.
This leads to one of my favorite moments of the film. The most understated line reading in the history of cinema. (Flash vid; mouse over for controls.)
If the other actor - or at least his voice - seems familiar, it should be; it's George Macready, who specialized in civilized, cold-hearted men. George Sanders without the charm. (More here; sounds like a fine fellow.)
The rest of the movie is an attempt to pin it on Ray Milland, except that they don't know it's him, really - so Ray, the editor of the company's crime magazine, has to lead the search in the building for himself. That's the second half, and it's a trim, brisk piece of work.
The boss, of course, has a hired punk who gives him massages and will shoot anyone if he has to:
It's Colonel Potter like you've never seen him before!
There are a few extra reasons to appreciate the film - one is the conception of life in a magazine empire, the style of late 40s offices. The second: the faces. It's full of archetypes who seem pinned to their era, almost unable to exist in ours. It's the greyscale, the hair, the details like bowties and handkerchiefs - but they all seem like bygone types.
I think that last guy got shot at the end of Taxi Driver.
Don't quite know if this was intentional, but the scale of the design, the way things are put together, tends to diminish the people who occupy the space - something that only hits you towards the end, when poor hunted Ray Milland looks down the door of an elevators. It's like "Land of the Giants."
Finally, the trailer, which will be a treat to anyone who likes the media of the era. Yes, it's "The Big Clock," endorsed . . . by Suspense! Using music Suspense never used!