George Stroud (Ray Milland) works for Janoth Publications. He is the editor-in-chief of the “Crimeways” magazine. One of the magazines published by Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). George is supposed to be going on vacation with his wife Georgette (Maureen O’Sullivan) and their child. Janoth wants George to postpone his vacation again and follow up on a missing person story George had just solved. George refuses. Janoth fires him.
George is at a bar having a final drink with a co-worker when Janoth’s mistress Pauline York (Rita Johnson) sits next to him. Pauline is aware that George was fired. She is hoping to get George to go in on blackmail plan against Janoth. George ends up drinking more than he should and loses track of time. Georgette, waiting at the railroad station, gets pissed when he doesn’t show up and leaves without him.
George gets smashed and ends up hanging out with Pauline. He buys a painting out from under a woman at a thrift store. He also buys a sundial from a bar owner that sells junk. He introduces her to a man who worked in radio doing different characters. He names some of them. One character was named Jefferson Randolph. George ends up at Pauline’s apartment sleeping on the couch. Pauline sees Janoth from the window and rouses George. She hurriedly gets him out of the apartment. As he is going down the back stairs he sees Janoth get off the elevator. George then heads off to Wheeling, West Virginia to be with his family.
Janoth accuses Pauline of seeing someone else. Teasingly she admits to meeting a man. She says his name was Jefferson Randolph. Janoth and Pauline get into a vicious fight. He picks up the sundial that George left in Pauline’s apartment and hits her with it. Pauline falls down dead. Janoth contacts his assistant Steve Hagan (George Macready). Instead of going to the police Steve convinces Janoth to cover up the crime and blame it on Jefferson Randolph.
Janoth decides to use all the resources of Crimeways to find the mysterious Jefferson Randolph. He calls George to convince him to come back and head the investigation. George knows that Janoth is the one responsible for Pauline’s death. He also knows that Janoth and Hagan plan on framing an innocent person for the crime. George is in a pickle. He needs to find a way to sabotage the investigation so that Janoth doesn’t find out that he is the mysterious Jefferson Randolph. Janoth knows that the man who left Pauline’s apartment saw him. When he does find the elusive Randolph Janoth plans on having his henchman Bill Womack (Harry Morgan) kill him.
“The Big Clock” was released in 1948 and was directed by John Farrow. It is a crime drama and a film noir with touches of cleaver humor. It is a lesser known film but a real treat. The film is based on the book by Kenneth Fearing. The clock in “The Big Clock” has very little to do with the film, but it is a cool title. Supposedly the Clock in Fearing’s novel represents a metaphor for the inevitability of the uncaring passage of time. Yeah sure, whatever.
You may think of noir as just hard boiled heroes hiding in dark and dirty corners but there are all kinds of noir out there. “The Big Clock” is definitely noir but with a lighter hand. It is well written with some great stars. Elsa Lanchester plays Louise Patterson, a bohemian artist with several kids from different husbands. She is a delight as the slightly ditsy but ever so shrewd artist that is willing to compromise the truth for a fan of her work. And five hundred dollars of course.
To some the film may start out a touch slow but give it some time and you will be rewarded with a very entertaining film. The balancing act between thriller and comedy is done quite well. It you are new to noir and you want something to dip your toe into, you can’t go wrong with this one. Ignore the title. Enjoy the movie. It’s good to the very end.
Co-stars Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton were married to each other, as were Maureen O'Sullivan and director John Farrow. Harry Morgan’s character Bill Womack has no dialog in the film but he is awesome as Janoth’s henchman.
In 1987 the film was remade as “No Way Out” starring Kevin Costner. The setting was changed to Washington DC and involved the U. S. Department of Defense. I prefer the 1948 version. There was also another version done in 1976 called “Police Python 357”. This one was a French version of the story starring Yves Montand.