Saturday, May 11, 2019

Blu-ray debut for John Farrow's delightful genre-mashing original, THE BIG CLOCK

Anyone who's never seen THE BIG CLOCK, the 1948 film that, while successful enough it is own time has since become what one might call a second-tier classic, should avail him/ herself of any opportunity. It's a keeper -- under just about every criteria. And just because you might have seen the so-so would-be remake from 1987 titled No Way Out, don't think you've even begun to  have discovered the genre-jumping/mashing charm of the original.

As directed by the under-rated journeyman filmmaker from Australia, John Farrow (shown right), with a screenplay by Jonathan Latimer (from the novel by Kenneth Fearing), the film begins with what TrustMovies thinks is an unnecessary prolog in which we learn that our hero is a man on the not-quite-run (only because he can't escape his surroundings).

Had the film simply begun at the beginning and moved along as it soon does, the audience might have imagined they were in for -- not the thriller it partially is -- but either a workplace satire or a comedy of manners, morals and art appreciation.

The Big Clock is all three of the above, as well as a lot more, too, mashing and jumping genres in a manner that would spin the heads of many of today's moviemakers. Plus, it offers a plot that has our hero (Ray Milland, above, right) forced by his evil boss to investigate himself for the very murder that boss has commited. (No spoilers here: most of the fun and multi-surprises come as that "investigation" occurs.)

As the hero, Milland proves his usual adept self at garnering our sympathy, even as he holds us back from fully embracing this somewhat flawed and slightly distanced man, while the great actor Charles Laughton (above) makes a magnificent meal out of the villain, a nasty media mogul named Earl Janoth. Watch the subtle (then not so) changes in Laughton's amazing face in the memorable murder scene for a lesson in fine film acting.

The supporting cast is full of familiar faces, with the wonderful Elsa Lanchester (above, left, and Laughton's real-life wife) a hoot-and-a-half as the artist whose work and bizarre personality figure heavily into the plot machinations. If everyone else were not so splendid, Ms Lanchester would have walked away with the movie. The unveiling of her portrait of the murder suspect is one of the film's highlights -- as is her final line.

A nice surprise, too, is the use of famed character actor Harry (Henry) Morgan, above, playing a masseuse/right-hand man you definitely would not want manhandling your vulnerable body. But then everyone here, including an uncredited Noel Neill as a smart and sassy elevator operator, is first-rate.

Director Farrow's handling of the plot and the melding of genres are also classy indeed. Note how swift and shocking is the murder scene, and how deft and fast-paced is the climax. These days, a filmmaker might drag out scenes like these well past their believability or entertainment quotient. Oh, and that titular clock is used well, too.

All in all as old movies go, this one's a don't miss. From Arrow Academy (distributed here in the USA via MVD Visual) and running just 96 minutes, The Big Clock hits Blu-ray (the transfer seems adequate but nothing to shout about) -- along with several worthwhile Bonus Features, including an appreciation of actor Laughton by Simon Callow, and a fine analysis of the film by Adrian Wootton -- this coming Tuesday, May 14, for purchase and I would hope rental, too.

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