Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 230: The Big Clock (1948) - Rank 5/5


This may easily be the most entertaining and engaging thriller I've seen amidst my film noir binging. From the opening panning shot across a darkened cityscape that rivals the opening for "Touch of Evil" to Charles Laughton's absolutely smarmy performance, it's pure fun from start to finish.

The tale spans thirty-six hours in the life of George Stroud (Ray Milland), a shrewd investigator for a detective magazine, who goes from the top man in his department to a murder suspect. He works for the odious Earl Janoth (Laughton), a giant in the publishing world who is not only obsessed with clocks to the point that he seems the inspiration for Bob Kane's Clock King, but he's also jealous and short-tempered enough to strangle his mistress, Pauline (Rita Johnson), to death at the hint of infidelity. Upon killing her, Janoth commissions Stroud to find the man responsible in the hope that Stroud will bring Pauline's other courtier to justice, allowing the publisher to evade the authorities. What Stroud doesn't know is that the man he's put Stroud in charge of finding is Stroud. Stroud finds himself in one of the worst positions that could be generated for a noir protagonist - he must cover his tracks and try to discover who the genuine murderer is while his murderous boss and his crack team of investigators grow closer to pinning him with the blame.

Laughton channels William Randolph Hearst with glee as he both chews the scenery and fills the viewer with disgust for his character. The supporting cast is excellent as well, with Maureen O'Sullivan as Stroud's loving and forgiving wife, a young Harry Morgan as the detective in charge of the case, Elsa Lanchaster as a ditsy, starving artist and the always enthralling George Macready as Janoth's scheming right-hand man. To go in-depth on some of the great moments of suspense or twists of the plot would ruin the film's impact for those who haven't seen it (and I certainly couldn't do the intensity of the tale justice though description), so I will simply say this: buy the film now. If you've a film noir buff, there's no way you can be disappointed.

Watch the Trailer

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