Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dir. by John Farrow

The Big Clock is a film adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel of the same name. For anyone who finds critics’ ramblings about “the love-wrack”, the sense of a moral void, and the general doom-laden bleakness of neo-noir to be a bit pretentious would do well to watch this old-time Hollywood film and recall that you can tell a hard-boiled story with a bit of humor.

George Stroud (Ray Milland) is editor of Crimeways Magazine. Stroud has a reputation for tracking down criminals and getting scoops by interviewing them before the boys in blue. You’d think that would get a guy some respect from his boss, but Stroud works for Earl Janoth (Charles Laughlin), the slimiest creep in publishing. Stroud has promised his wife (Maureen O’Sullivan) he’ll take a vacation and Janoth has promised to fire him if he does. Torn between letting more leave time accumulate or being fired and blacklisted, Stroud’s in a pickle. While drowning his sorrows, he just happens to meet the lovely Miss Pauline York (Rita Johnson), who just happens to be Janoth’s ex. Pretty soon Stroud finds he’s spent way too much time with Pauline and is in deep with his wife. Pauline has a confrontation with Janoth and ends up deep in death.

Janoth knows he’ll be in deep with the electric chair unless he can pin the rap on someone else. So he sets his ace crime-stopping editor to finding the guy Pauline was partying with. Stroud must simultaneously track down the clues that will frame him for murder, while finding a way to prove he’s innocent. Not wrecking his marriage is his side dish.

This is a good, fast-paced suspense tale. Milland, Laughlin, and Johnson were all superb. The story builds tension, but provides relief with quirky humor. If The Big Clock sounds familiar, it should. It was re-made as No Way Out, starring Kevin Costner in 1987. While this was one of Costner’s best movies (yes, I know that bar is rather low), I still recommend The Big Clock on its own merits.

-Dave Hardy

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