Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Bad Business - The Big Clock!
The Big Clock starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton is a film noir from 1948 that penetrates the magazine publishing industry. Magazines are a dying form these days, but this is set in their heyday when their power was enormous. The movie is derived from a novel by the same title.
A ruthless tycoon named Janoth (Laughton) who is a maniac for puncuality and who to that end has a great clock in the center of his skyscraper, a building dedicated to his magazine empire of which Crimeways magazine edited by George Stroud (Milland) is a successful part. Stroud is about to head out on a long-delayed vacation when the pressures of the job cause him to miss his train and his wife (Maureen O'Sullivan) and his son head off without him. He carouses through the city with a mysterious blond named Pauline who as it turns out is the girlfriend of Janoth himself. Janoth later kills Pauline in a fit of rage and contacts his main henchman Hagan (a top man at the publishing empire) to help him cover it up. Janoth had seen a man leave Pauline's apartment (Stroud) but didn't identify him and they work to lay the blame for the killing on him. So Stroud ends up using his magazine's formidable resources to try and find himself. This turnabout occupies the bulk of the movie, with lots of twists and turns.
It's a clever premise aided and abetted by a quick pace and some fine acting, especially by Milland in a part which quickly could become too manic to care about. He's a cad but we still somehow continue to identify and even sympathize with him. Laughton's Janoth is a selfish loathsome runt and easy to hate, making the more malleable Stroud more moral in comparison. O' Sullivan has a small role as the dutiful wife, and why she stands by her man is anyone's guess.
Another highlight is the presence of Elsa Lanchester who is amazingly funny in a movie in which there is small room for the outlandish. She strikes up a memorable presence and steals several scenes. There are loads of strong character actors who makes these vintage movies so rich.
There are some aspects which are bit over the top, but the pacing helps to hide the weaknesses in a story that is captivating. The movie was remade many years later as No Way Out and starred a young up and comer named Kevin Costner. I've been a fan of that movie for years, but had never seen the original on which it from which it was derived.