The Big Clock Slows Things Down

Burdened by an unnecessarily complicated plot and comic interludes, The Big Clock slows through the first act. By the time hero George Stroud is imperiled, the viewer may have become far more interested in the progression of her wristwatch.

The film begins promisingly with George running from a security guard, then segues into a classic noir flashback to trace his transformation from respectable career and family man into fugitive. As the head of a true crime magazine, George locates fugitives. This dedication to public service and boosting magazine profits pleases his tyrannical boss, Earl Janoth, played in campy, moustache-twirling fashion by Charles Laughton. Janoth's fetish for time is literally built up in the titular big clock in his building, but his fetish turns out to be a non sequitor.

The script clumsily brings together George and Janoth's embittered mistress Pauline, raising Pauline's hazy plan to blackmail Janoth and then instantly dropping it when George isn't interested. It'd be more interesting to focus on George's interest in the beautiful Pauline and explore the existing tension in George's strained marriage to cutesily-named Georgette but The Big Clock turns out to be curiously timid in this respect. Pauline and George spend the evening together, bound by script contrivance instead of attraction, until she kicks him out of her apartment right before Janoth arrives. Janoth glimpses but doesn't recognise George leaving. Janoth kills Pauline in a jealous rage and with asks George to hunt down Pauline's mysterious companion. Janoth plans to frame the mystery man for Pauline's murder.

As the over-long first act ends at the film's halfway mark, things finally begin to get interesting. Afraid of being framed for Pauline's murder, George is forced to head the manhunt for himself in the hope that he can steer the investigation away from him. It's an intriguing premise, as is the increasing suspense as George's investigators get closer to identifying him. It's too bad that the film takes so long to get to this point. The Big Clock continues to be hamstrung by comedic elements, including Elsa Lanchester's wacky artist, a fey bartender and an alcoholic radio actor, who all slow down the film's pacing.

(January 17, 2001)

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