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USA 1948
Directed by
John Farrow
95 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Big Clock

This above average B-grade crime thriller features one of Charles Laughton's most memorably sociopathic performances, as the megalomaniacal media tsar, Earl Janoth, a caricatural descendant of Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane who, in a fit of jealous rage, kills his mistress (Rita Johnson) and then tries to cover it up.  Inextricably caught up in this scenario is family man George Stroud (Ray Milland), a crime journalist who works for Janoth

Scripted by Jonathan Latimer from a novel by Kenneth Fearing and with quality production values and some distinctive directorial touches from Farrow, aided by crystal clear black and white cinematography by John F. Seitz, The Big Clock is a worthy addition to the “anti-capitalist” category of films pioneered by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis,  (1927) even if the plot is a tad strained although surprisingly not a lot of use is made of the big clock which one might well have expected to be the means of tyrant’s demise.  

Although sharing characteristics of the film noir (George Macready who plays Janoth’s right-hand man was one of the stars of the noir classic, Gilda,1946) with the central concept of a reluctant protagonist trapped in a vortex of deception instigated by a larger evil, the film is not entirely of the style, there being quite a bit of jocularity thrown into the entertaining mix. Also rather surprising is the readiness with which Stroud hits the town with Janoth’s mistress, leaving his wife and child to go on their holiday/belated honeymoon alone. One might think that the mess that Stroud finds himself in would be some kind of moral retribution but he is treated very much as the innocent victim. 

The film was quite the family affair with Farrow’s real-life wife, Maureen O'Sullivan (mother of Mia Farrow), playing Stroud’s wife and Laughton’s wife, Elsa Lancaster playing a scatty bohemian painter. Whilst the overall standard of the film is very good, for most audiences it will be Charles Laughton's evil capitalist boss that will offer the most rewards.

FYI: The film was remade (heavily disguised) as No Way Out (Roger Donaldson, 1987) with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman but with much less satisfying results.




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