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  Big Clock, The Time Is Running Out
Year: 1948
Director: John Farrow
Stars: Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Macready, Rita Johnson, Elsa Lanchester, Harold Vermilea, Dan Tobin, Harry Morgan, Richard Webb, Elaine Riley, Luis Van Rooten, Lloyd Corrigan, Frank Orth, Margaret Field, Bobby Watson
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: George Stroud (Ray Milland) is a man on the run in his own workplace, a huge, labyrinthine office block the centre piece of which is a large clock set to various times around the globe. Just thirty-six hours ago, George muses from his hiding places, life was relatively normal: he was the editor of a successful true crime magazine, planning his honeymoon, a honeymoon he should have enjoyed five years back. However his work keeps getting in the way, as the head of Janoth Publications, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) hardly ever lets him have time off in the publisher's quest for success at all costs. This time, George knows, things will be different, with the holiday booked and his wife Georgette (Maureen O'Sullivan) ready to leave with their young son. It's just that the magazine has cracked a new case, and wouldn't you know it, Janoth wants him to stay on for the next few days and oversee the story, which is guaranteed to sell a hundred thousand extra copies...

Today The Big Clock is best known as the film that the Kevin Costner thriller No Way Out was based on, and it in turn was based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing (good name for a thriller writer, that), but it still stands up as tense entertainment - eventually. A sort of film noirish development happens along about half an hour in, but until then, that prologue apart, you wouldn't be aware you were watching a thriller, just a drama about one man's battle with the rat race. Milland does well enough in these scenes, but it's when the plot's screws begin to tighten that he starts to shine; Laughton, as his nemesis, sports a funny looking, stuck on moustache and is unexpectedly, menacingly restrained, speaking in a low growl throughout.

At least this first third allows us to grow accustomed to the characters. Aside from George and Janoth, O'Sullivan has a rather thankless role as the noble but, there's no getting away from it, nagging wife (and why does she have a feminised version of her husband's name? Screenwriter Jonathan Latimer could have shown a little more imagination). For the supporting cast there's an array of talent, with Rita Johnson as Pauline York, Janoth's mistress who gets to know George in a short space of time, unluckily for them both, Elsa Lanchester (Laughton's wife in real life, of course, although they barely share the screen here) as an eccentric artist with a collection of offspring who is a witness potentially damaging to George, and George Macready as Steve Hagen, Janoth's efficient right hand man who does a spot of covering up.

In a more modern film, George would be punished for sleeping with Pauline, but through various plot contrivances they simply spend the evening together without much hint of sexual indiscretion, even if they both might have been considering it. No, George seems to be punished for not paying enough attention to his family, but he remains sympathetic nevertheless as he is, after all, supposed to be an innocent man caught up in a spiral of lies and murder. George and Pauline have a great time together after Georgette and George Jr (yes, his son's called George too!) leave without him when he misses the train, but they mainly trail around the bars getting drunk. Next morning, George wakes up (fully clothed) in Pauline's apartment and sneaks out when Janoth arrives, which proves to be a big mistake. The Big Clock's storyline is hampered by a lack of surprises, perhaps they tell us too much when a mystery would have been more effective, but Laughton is a top villain and the finale is superbly staged, even if it does arrive a little too late. Notably, no police are seen, as George reluctantly yet inexorably traps himself. Music by Victor Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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