The Big Clock (1948) – Film Review
Director: John Farrow
Cast: Ray Milland, Maureen O’Sullivan, Charles Laughton
by Sarah Morgan
You can’t go wrong with a bit of classic film noir – it’s what movies were made for. Melodramatic, stylish and featuring great actors, there are some amazing examples out there, the kind that Hollywood has tried to replicate on and off over the years but with limited success.
The Big Clock is one of the best examples I’ve seen in a while, although interestingly, many of those behind its success were not American, despite the fact that the genre is most associated with the US.
The movie was directed by John Farrow, the Australian-born film-maker best known these days as the father of actress Mia, and stars British thespians Ray Milland and Charles Laughton.
“Caught up in a nightmare”
Milland takes the lead role of George Stroud, editor of a magazine dedicated to crime. He’s built up something of a reputation as a detective himself thanks to his unerring skill at finding those who have seemingly disappeared off the face of the Earth.
He’s in conflict with his boss, mag owner Earl Janoth (Laughton), who fires him when he cancels his long-delayed holiday. Janoth’s mistress Pauline approaches Stroud saying she has a way they can both make him pay for his demanding behaviour, but when she’s murdered, he finds himself caught up in a nightmare.
As his wife (played by Farrow’s real-life wife Maureen O’Sullivan, better known as Tarzan’s Jane in the 1930s Johnny Weismuller films) starts to wonder if he’s having an affair, Janoth brings Stroud back to the office, supposedly to find a missing man, but in fact to frame him for Pauline’s demise.
Can Stroud find a way out? As this is 1940s Hollywood and a film-maker’s code was in place to make sure that evil-doers always got their comeuppance, you can probably work out the answer to that. But it’s all done in such a remarkable, fascinating way, that it’s still gripping stuff.
Milland and, in particular, Laughton, are on top form, while Farrow’s direction is snappy and keeps things ticking over at a rapid pace.
The script, by Jonathan Latimer from a book by renowned crime writer Kenneth Fearing, deserves a mention too. Interestingly, the film was produced by Richard Maibaum, who went on to write several Bond movies – perhaps he had an uncredited hand in the screenplay too.
There is an abundance of special features too, including a documentary about Laughton and his role in The Big Clock featuring Simon Callow.
This is classy stuff not to be missed.
‘The Big Clock’ is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy, £24.99