Tuesday, February 20, 2007

THE BIG CLOCK (Universal 1948) Universal Home Video

John Farrow’s The Big Clock (1948) is a labyrinth of dark humor and cyclical twists and turns – rather like riding a funhouse car into the murky blackness of uncertainty but with one's nervous expectation of fear riding shotgun. However, the film becomes rather curiously unhinged by some sloppy screenwriting that diverts our attentions away from the central predicament for our story's hero, Crimeways editor-in-chief, George Stroud (Ray Milland).

You see, George has been assigned by his punctually obsessed editor, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) to cover the murder of a mysterious woman, Pauline York (Rita Johnson). There is just one little wrinkle that needs to be overcome; the overworked Stroud not only knows the woman in question but spent the night with her after failing to pick up his wife (Maureen Sullivan) from the train station. After Pauline's untimely demise, George cannot recall - thanks to some very strong booze - if he had anything to do with her death.

There’s also something else to consider; Pauline was Janoth’s mistress. Now the question arises for Stroud: how to accurately cover his scoop, report all the facts, expose the killer and keep his own name out of the proceedings. As expected, both men are feverishly working at cross purposes.

Elsa Lanchester appears as Louise Patterson, a high-strung painter whose sketch of the prime suspect slowly begins to take on the contents of George Stroud. The Big Clock was remade in 1987 as a Kevin Costner thriller that ironically derived its namesake from another film noir, No Way Out. Regrettably, neither the original nor its remake is particularly effective at instilling its chills and suspense.

The strength of Ray Milland's acting prowess when playing congenial every men has always eluded me. Truth be told, I tend to find him a rather ineffectual hero, perhaps because he seems so much more at home and convincing as the troubled villain in films like Dial M For Murder or The Lost Weekend. But in The Big Clock he has to not only 'play good' but 'be good' and I'm afraid nobility does not suit his on screen persona at all. 

There's also something rather off putting about Laughton's performance in this film, so sleazy and oddly effeminate that one cannot imagine any woman much less the sultry Pauline finding him attractive. Separately, the film might have survived either casting misfire. Put together, Milland and Laughton's star turns represent a rather abysmal weakness from which the film never recovers.  

The Big Clock on DVD is a below average effort from Universal. The gray scale is poorly balanced with very dull murky blacks and dirty whites. Contrast levels are low. Age related artifacts are everywhere. The overall texture of the image is gritty and grainy with some rather obvious examples of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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