The Big Clock (1948)- John Farrow



Based on the novel of the same name by Kenneth Fearing, “The Big Clock” (1948) is a suspense thriller revolving around a magazine editor and investigator named George (Ray Milland), who has been hired by his less than compassionate boss, Janoth (Charles Laughton), to investigate a man, whom Janoth believes is having an affair with his girlfriend (Rita Johnson). The Big Clock (1948)Problems quickly arise as George realizes that he is the man that he has been hired to find, even though he is innocent of any wrong-doing (other than making a few stupid decisions). George is forced to continue the search (for himself), while juggling his aggravating boss, his suspecting wife (Maureen O’Sullivan), and while trying to find the real criminal on his own.

Somewhat surprisingly, “The Big Clock” is a pretty decent suspense thriller. The story has a couple of holes and “convenient coincidences”, but once those are put aside, everything falls into place nicely. The screenplay by Jonathan Latimer keeps things moving at a pace that is easy to follow, without ever dragging. It builds slowly until the final twenty minutes when the suspense completely takes over, catching the audience almost by surprise.

Director John Farrow directs without any pomp and circumstance, allowing the script and story to control the film. He also lets his group of actors do their own thing, and when you have a group like this, that works best anyway.The Big Clock (1948) Ray Milland is perfectly cast, reminiscent of his performance in the Fritz Lang thriller, “Ministry of Fear” (1944). Here, Milland recaptures that suspense-filled magic, and he plays the “wrong man” character extremely well. He’s easy to root for, and his sense of humor gives him the feel of an old friend that you’re always excited to see.

Charles Laughton is also very good, although the part isn’t huge. He makes a superb villain, and he and Milland seem like a couple of guys who could go head to head anytime. Rita Johnson and Maureen O’Sullivan perform well in their limited roles, O’Sullivan coming out of retirement to work with her husband, director John Farrow.  Once again, neither of these ladies have much screen time, but they get their jobs done despite it being Milland’s film. If you want to talk about a scene stealer, however, we have one of those too in the amazingly talented Elsa Lanchester. The Big Clock (1948)She plays a painter who can identify George, but for whatever reason, chooses to help him instead. She is hilarious, and one major downside to this film is that Lanchester doesn’t have a larger part.

The real highlight of “The Big Clock” is in the preconceived notions that you might have going into the film. Even the title suggests a “B” movie feel, but it deserves more credit than that. It’s pieced together nicely with a noir appearance without being quite so dark and dreary. It actually feels like the type of film that Alfred Hitchcock could have made, which would have made it a more remembered film today. John Farrow, however, rises to the challenge and delivers a masterfully conceived picture that delivers on every level.

6 thoughts on “The Big Clock (1948)- John Farrow

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (Caftan Woman) says:

    Back in the dark ages we put a tape in to record “The Big Clock” and went out for a rare night on the town. The tape ran out just before the end of the movie. It was years before I saw the darn thing all the way through. It’s been years since we had a night on the town as well.


    • Paul says:

      I hate it when I miss the end of a movie for any reason. Luckily this doesn’t happen as much today as it used to, but I feel your pain and am glad you eventually were able to see the ending.

      By the way, what’s a night on the town? 🙂


    • Paul says:

      Everyone at my house, read this post when it came out, and they’re all upset I watched it without them. Apparently I’m watching “The Big Clock” again tonight!


  2. Karen says:

    I greatly enjoyed your review, and am so pleased that I discovered your excellent blog today. I’m a big fan of The Big Clock, and am especially fond of the characters played by Milland and Lanchester. I look forward to exploring your blog for more stuff!


    • Paul says:

      Welcome to the conversation Karen.Thrilled to have you here, and excited to hear all your thoughts.

      “The Big Clock” is one of those unsung greats for me. It never gets old, the characters are very entertaining, and Milland just eases through the role keeping things light, even at their most suspenseful moments.


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