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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Big Clock (1948)



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The Big Clock is a thrilling film noir. It opens with a man sneaking into the room behind a giant clock to hide. The police after after him. He's evidently trapped with nowhere to go. Most of the rest of the movie is a flashback, detailing the horrific events that lead up to this moment. The man is Ray Milland, and his panicked narration tells us he is innocent.

It's a Hitchcockian tale, both in plotwise and, to a lesser extent, in execution. An innocent man is framed for something he didn't do. The guilty party is given his comeuppance not so much with spectacular action sequences but by the subtle misplaying of his hand. He attempts one trick too many and is foiled by his own opportunism.

Though not a cinematic masterpiece, The Big Clock is an excellent representative of its genre. On the surface, the film is easygoing enough for the first half, but a feeling of dread underscores the lighter moments. The second half is nail-biting and frenetic as things spin out of control. Ray Milland is engaging in the lead role, and Charles Laughton is cold and cruel as his boss. Maureen O'Sullivan has a relatively small and thankless role as Milland's wife, who is becoming tired of taking second priority to her husband's career. Interestingly, there are two real life couples at work on this film: Elsa Lanchester, Laughton's wife, plays a funny supporting role, and John Farrow, O'Sullivan's husband, directs.