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Big Clock, The
Based on the novel by Kenneth Fearing, 1948's The Big Clock, which was directed by John Farrow, is all about the setup. Sure, it opens with a man named George Stroud (Ray Milland) hiding inside the titular clock (and it is a big one) in the Janoth Publishing building, but we don't yet know why.
And so we flashback a day and a half. It's then that the film introduces us to one Earl Janoth (wonderfully played by the inimitable Charles Laughton, who would later direct the masterpiece that is Night Of The Hunter in 1955). Janoth makes a very good living for himself as a publisher and he wants for very little in his life. Stroud is the editor-in-chief of Crimeways magazine, one of Janoth's publications, and he's just cracked a big story that his boss wants him to finish. Stroud has other plans, he wants to take wife Georgette (Maureen O'Sullivan) and son to Virginia for vacation. A squabble ensues and Stroud is fired. Feeling sorry for himself, Stroud hits a nearby watering hole where he just so happens to meet up with Pauline York (Rita Johnson), Janoth's beautiful mistress. She tries to talk him into helping her blackmail his boss. While this is going on, Stroud misses his train. An understandably upset Georgette takes the kid and heads to Virginia without her husband, who stays back in the city and hangs out with Pauline for the duration of the night.
They wind up back at her place but Janoth soon arrives. Stroud splits but Janoth sees a figure in her apartment and assumes she's going around behind his back. Soon enough, Pauline is dead. Janoth intends to confess to the cops but after his assistant, Hagen (George Macready), gets word of what happened he talks Janoth into framing whoever it was that he saw leaving Pauline's apartment that night and using all of the resources of his magazine to make it happen. Soon enough, Stroud, recently re-hired, finds himself in the unenviable spots of having to pretend to help his guilty employer while simultaneously trying to find a way to clear his name and set the record straight.
Much of what The Big Clock explores, the main theme being how the rich can and do use their status in life to get away with murder… sometimes quite literally, still apply to the modern American landscape. This makes the film surprisingly relevant and as the story unfolds, we can't help but be pulled into all of this. There are some great twists and turns in the film and its admittedly very clever premise is exploited very well across the span of the movie's ninety-five-minute running time. John Farrow, who is probably best remembered for Around The World In Eighty Days controls the pacing with skill, giving the audience just enough, and never too much, so as to hold our curiosity. While the film might not have been made with the largest of budgets, production values are strong throughout and the cinematography from Daniel L. Fapp and John F. Seitz is excellent. So too is the score from the very prolific Victor Young, the perfect selection of music to accompany the proceedings.
It is, however, the performances that really stand out. Ray Milland is very good here as a man conflicted, having to keep up the ruse with his boss while at the same time sort things out with his wife and somehow find a way to prove he didn't murder anyone. Milland is perfect in the role, clearly investing a lot in his portrayal. As good as Milland is, however, scenes are frequently stolen by Laughton, who couldn't be better in his part. He's absolutely perfect as the sleazy Janoth. Not only does he look the part but he just oozes a weird, creepy aura that goes a long way towards making this movie as good as it is. Supporting work from O'Sullvian and Johnson is also fine, and be on the lookout for small parts given to the Bride Of Frankenstein herself, Elsa Lanchester, and a young Henry Morgan (who would later go on to star in M*A*S*H).
The Big Clock is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.33.1 that has been ‘transferred from original film elements.' Aside from a few small white specks here and there, the image is very clean. Contrast is generally quite strong as well. Black levels are good, whites are clean and there's a nice greyscale here. Grain can look a little thick in spots but detail tends to be very good here. The disc is well-authored in that there are no noticeable issues with compression problems. Noise reduction and edge enhancement are never problematic. All in all, a fine transfer for a nicely shot film.
The 24-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono track on the disc, which comes with optional English subtitles is fine. The track is clean and properly balanced, with easily discernible dialogue. There are no real problems here to note, the audio is good.
First up, as far as the extra features are concerned, is an audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin. It's an interesting talk that expands on the film's qualities without tying it down to film noir conventions, though certainly discussing it within those conventions as well. There's plenty of talk about what makes this picture unique, about the directing style, the cast and crew, the look of the picture, the score, the locations and plenty more. It's clear that Martin put a lot of research into this but also equally clear that he's also put a lot of thought into the film, and his dissection of the picture is just as interesting as the facts and trivia that are relayed here.
After that, we get a few featurettes starting with Turning Back the Clock, a twenty-three-minute analysis of the film by Adrian Wootton, a film critic and chief executive of Film London. It's an interesting thought piece that explores the concepts laid out in the picture as well as some of the themes that the film toys with and how. A Difficult Actor is an appreciation of Charles Laughton by actor/writer/theater director Simon Callow that runs just under eighteen-minutes. Here Callow does a pretty deep dive into what makes Laughton's work in this picture as impressive and interesting as it is, offering up some interesting food for thought about how he brings his character to life in the film.
Arrow has also included an interesting hour-long radio play version of The Big Clock starring Ray Milland that was originally broadcast on Lux Radio Theater in 1948. Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. As to the packaging, Arrow provides a nice reversible cover sleeve for this release as well as an illustrated full color booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray as well as an essay on the film written by Christina Newland (this booklet is included only with the first pressing of this disc).
The Big Clock is an excellent thriller, a gripping slice of moody film noir ripe with atmosphere and suspense made all the more enjoyable by some excellent performances. Arrow's Blu-ray release of the film is quite strong, giving the film a very nice transfer, fine audio and a solid array of extra features. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.