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Monday, May 07, 2018

Minnelli, Metro, Manhattan

"Joyous Judy and Bashful Bob" in The Clock (1945)

Check Out Early Start Time For Chicago's First-Run
A Metro tour through New York without going to New York. That could not have been practically done during the war, though data says Jack Conway and a crew took doubles to shoot distance view of characters played back at Culver by Judy Garland and Robert Walker. The Clock showed how faking progressed to a mid-40's summit before peace found audiences opting more for reality, or at least fairy tales told in actual spots they happen. On The Town was celebrated instance of this, even if real-thing NY footage was bunched up in a first reel, in-house business-as-usual prevailing for the rest. The Clock did not birth easily. Conway was replaced by Fred Zinneman after getting second-unit NY footage, then latter was let go in favor of Vincente Minnelli. Zinneman did not mention The Clock in an otherwise detailed autobiography, though he oversaw several weeks on the project before Judy Garland went to producer Arthur Freed and said she was "incompatible" with him. It wasn't common for a director to step off by star request. Too much of that led to inefficiency, as here when Minnelli came aboard and scrapped most of what Zinneman had shot, an uptick to costs. But Garland was a hothouse flower and had to be placated, hers a talent beyond hope of substituting.

All Out For Metro's Mock-Up Penn Station

Gag Pose of Stars with Director Vincente Minnelli

Minnelli spoke later of how he added New York as a third character with Garland and Walker. A massive set was built to represent Pennsylvania Station. I thought at first blush that they had actually gone there. Everything else was process or the doubles captured by Conway's crew. Mock-ups are admirable when done so well as this, and to recreate Gotham so accurately was very much a badge of honor for Metro (publicity boast at the time: "All these sets in The Clock serve a dual purpose. They're a glimpse of home for nostalgic New Yorkers; and for those who have never visited the fabulous city, they're a realistic, thrilling first-hand peek at the skyscrapers and the sights!"). The fact it was all simulated was basis for praise from critics and a willingly fooled audience. Was New York in 1944-45 such a place as Minnelli portrays here? He lived in Greenwich Village through the 30's and grafted impressions onto scenes and dialogue. He wanted local color poured over The Clock, but did it distract from the love story?

Writer Robert Nathan Visits The Set

There is James Gleason for a long stretch (Minnelli instructed his cast to ad-lib whole of a breakfast table scene, or so said Metro press). Keenan Wynn as a loud drunk relies on one's own threshold for Keenan Wynn as a loud drunk. "Minnelli gave him free rein," said publicity, "because Keenan is noted for his cleverly realistic impressions of a drunk." Notable was fact this diner scene, four and a half minutes in length, was done in one shot. Minnelli believed in extensive rehearsal, a mobile camera, and scenes played through without cuts where possible. Long takes were common to his work, and had to have been an economy for films upon which money was generously invested. A day's shooting quota could be wrapped in minutes by Minnelli thanks to his pre-planning. The director composed along Symphony Of The City lines because he knew how slight the story was on its own, scripted talk banal and going nowhere. Novelist Robert Nathan, with Portrait Of Jennie in his wake, was troubled by changes made and not reported to him until after the fact. Minnelli's takeover of The Clock made fair game of dialogue, which he didn't hesitate amending to his needs. Consensus saw this as a big improvement, save disgruntled Robert Nathan. Here may have been the moment when Minnelli was recognized as Most Valuable of staff directors at MGM.

Broadway's Capital Theatre Opens The Clock

The Clock needs a certain mood to enjoy, as in you might be enchanted by it one day, irritated the next. Mood of a 1945 public must have been right, for The Clock did well, not massively so as the Minnelli/Garland it followed (Meet Me In St. Louis), but enough to realize profit from $1.3 million spent on the negative. Big noise at the time was Judy Garland occupied at something other that song, and being all grown up in the bargain. To this extent, she and Universal's Deanna Durbin were on similar trajectory, DD by 1945 essaying career girls romantically available to swains that qualify. For Garland, there was Robert Walker as shy guy, but potent where given license, which they get marriage-wise after frustration (for them and us) of chasing legal clearance over whole of a third act. A long and wordless breakfast on the morn after wedding night was Judy-fan's opportunity to ponder their idol having been deflowered for a first time on screen (well, offscreen, of course, but they could dream, couldn't they?). Such a thing had real currency for a public that followed girl-to-woman arc of Garland, Durbin, then a Gloria Jean, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, built from a same blueprint.

Producer Arthur Freed Does a Cameo with Robert Walker

Freed With Vincente Minnelli

Boys-next-door could be more problematic where image and reality got blurred. Fans who followed Robert Walker and assumed he'd make a perfect mate would be took down by headlines once his problems got too considerable to suppress. Bob was a great actor for keeping on-screen lid upon habits broiling behind cameras. The drinking was rife as early as lost weekends (and shooting days) on The Clock. Judy had to dig him out of bars to make call times, then pull him through hung-over emoting from there. She liked lost souls, maybe a birds-of-feather thing, or Bob working male magnetism even where potted. Walker was resolutely straight against backdrop of safe Garland dates who were that way by orientation rather than restraint. Further instance of good acting: Tom Drake and Van Johnson making attraction to Judy, or whatever lead ladies, believable. Would we be better off if curtains on these, plus others, had never been lifted? De-construct of old Hollywood done by 70-80's star bios, so many scurrilous if not flat untrue, left sour aftertaste for those who'd bought so willingly into dreams. I'm not necessarily happier for knowing "truth" about players I admire.

Odd Bedfellows: The Clock with a B-Western and Serial
MGM had a fancy publication called The Lion's Roar which was distributed to showmen but so good that copies also found ways to dentist offices and other spots where time lay heavy. The Lion's Roar tooted a loudest horn for fresh Metro product. They let loose on The Clock as though it were bigger news than peace in Europe. That was a reality by the time The Clock got into theatres. Metro's Capital Theatre flagship salted its premiere program with Jane Froman, Willie Howard, and George Paxton's Orchestra in addition to the feature, while Chicago got head start on daily attendance with an 8:45 AM start and final shows at 11 PM. The war being won was backdrop through The Clock's nationwide run, a color newsreel compilation, To The Shores Of Iwo Jima a frequent co-attraction. Bittersweet finish to The Clock saw Judy Garland leaving Penn Station alone after Robert Walker departs for the continued fight, both wondering if he'll be back. Upbeat events between production and release suggested that indeed he would, a happy ending wrested from the many separations that didn't resolve so well with the war's outcome still in doubt.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

CAMPANAS DEL DESTINO, in a week devoted to Vincente Minelli's films.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Sean D. said...

The Clock is one of my dark horse favorites. I never knew it existed until stumbling across it on TCM one afternoon a few years back. For the huge names attached, it struck me then as a sweet little picture that, if not for the talent involved, would be considered a "B" movie.

8:31 PM  

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