The Big Clock

Earl Janoth is a hugely successful businessman, his publishing firm home to a slew of periodicals, among them Sportways, Styleways, Newsways and Crimeways, a man of meticulous timekeeping whose New York offices are dominated by the big clock, an enormous installation facing the main entrance which controls every other timepiece within the building.

Earl Janoth is also a monster, pompous, demanding, belittling, treating time as more important than the hundreds of people who work for him, any one of whom he is prepared to fire without a second thought for the slightest defiance to his petty whims.

A bully accustomed to getting what he wants, Janoth lives by the big clock and expects his workers – and by extension their families – to do the same, and when Crimeways editor George Stroud refuses to once again postpone his long-delayed honeymoon Janoth does not take it kindly, whereas Stroud is delighted by his sudden and permanent liberation.

Visiting a nearby bar, Stroud finds a kindred spirit in the glamorous Pauline York, Janoth’s former mistress, also summarily dismissed but unlike Stroud keen to even the score, but neither of them truly know how badly the normally unflappable Janoth will react when his perfectly structured world is upset by a more anachronistic timepiece, an ornamental sundial.

Based on the 1946 novel by Kenneth Fearing, principally remembered as a poet, The Big Clock was swiftly optioned for the screen, adapted by crime novelist Jonathan Latimer and directed by John Farrow for released in April 1948 and now remastered for a new Blu-ray by Arrow Academy.

Ostensibly a film noir but with a variety of quirks which sometimes take it closer to a screwball comedies of the thirties, The Uninvited‘s Ray Milland is Stroud, trying to stay one step ahead of an investigative team he himself trained, while The Old Dark House‘s Charles Laughton is the manipulative Janoth, with supporting roles for Farrow’s wife Maureen O’Sullivan as Mrs Georgette Stroud and Paths of Glory‘s George Macready as Janoth’s ruthless strongman Hagen.

Stealing every scene in which she appears as the painter Louise Patterson is Bride of Frankenstein‘s Elsa Lanchester, one her ten appearances onscreen alongside her husband Laughton, wonderfully eccentric and bringing unexpected absurdity to proceedings, able to identify a murder suspect but reticent to do so as she knows him to be a fan of her art.

The melange of styles extends to the stunning set design, from the offices of Janoth Productions, luxurious to the point of opulence, to the ultra-modernity of the big clock itself; Farrow’s technical ambition is exemplified in the opening shot which moves from panning across the darkened city streets directly through a window then shortly after in the rising elevator where the background set changes each time the doors open on a new floor.

Tightly plotted, cleverly structured and with ample material for all the ensemble to establish their characters, the new edition of The Big Clock also contains an informative commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, an appraisal of the film by critic Adrian Wootton and a radio adaptation with Milland and O’Sullivan reprising their roles.

Most interesting of the extras is Simon Callow’s appreciation of Laughton, not only an authority on the actor and the craft of acting but obviously a huge fan who knows Laughton’s whole career, both up and down, offering insight into his performance here such as the fact that Milland did not like his famous co-star, an animosity which Laughton may have used in his antagonistic performance.

The Big Clock is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy



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