The plot is labyrinthine but ingeniously constructed. When media mogul Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) murders his mistress in a jealous rage, he tries to pin it on the man he saw with her, putting his top crime journalist George Stroud (Ray Milland) on the case. Unbeknown to Janoth, the man he saw was actually George, who must now use every means at his disposal to exonerate himself and expose the real murderer.
Ray Milland makes a charming, self-assured lead, and as the film goes on he utilises his sharp features and wide eyes to great effect, appearing more and more desperate. He is shown to be resourceful, and (as with all noir protagonists) morally ambiguous. It shows the situation is so dire that he has to resort to breaking, entering and bribery to clear his name, which creates a much more nuanced character.
Charles Laughton is also a joy to watch as the tyrannical, time-obsessed boss. He is utterly convincing as both the arrogant CEO and the sweaty, desperate murderer, and remains utterly human throughout. This is what I love about film noir, the way it highlights these singularly human traits that ultimately provide the villains’ downfall. Laughton plays both his self-importance and his desperation brilliantly, as he is brought down by his own hubris. There is a nice parallel between Janoth and the eponymous clock; his life runs like clockwork, and it’s only when the clock breaks down that he loses his composure and starts to come unravelled himself.
A lightweight film noir with an original premise, some great performances and stark cinematography, The Big Clock is a fun film that gets better with every repeat viewing. It might not have the dark, brooding menace of some of the more revered examples of the genre, but what the film lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in a tightly plotted story. It moves along breezily, and ratchets up the suspense right until the climax.
Arrow never disappoint with special features, and this is no exception, featuring an in-depth analysis of the film by Adrian Wootton and an entertaining look at Charles Laughton‘s career by Simon Callow, as well as a host of other extras.