Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Monday, June 20, 2022

Film Noir #9


 Noir: The Big Clock and The Big Knife



THE BIG CLOCK (1948) --- Some stories merit telling twice, Nightmare Alley as recent evidence. So too was The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing, a noir novel of the forties, adapted in 1948 and again in 1987 (No Way Out). The Big Clock is infused with humor, lightly played by Ray Milland and sinisterly by Charles Laughton, a felicitous combination. Simon Callow in a Blu-Ray extra described Milland as “a butch Welshman” who despised Laughton, info I’d like to see a source for, though I understand Ray could be prickly w/ co-stars he found less than congenial, Marlene Dietrich (Golden Earrings), Hedy Lamarr (Copper Canyon) two such. Fearing’s novel was an attack on big business, indeed on capitalism itself, but Paramount would not go there. “Janoth Publications” impresses, an art-directed marvel, its sole liability a murderer as C.E.O. Laughton is dapper and better turned-out than in most 40’s circumstance (compare especially with soon-after The Bribe). We like him for once being in control and not the hapless victim of others’ machinations. Laughton characters had been dreadfully put upon during his thirties peak, many inviting pity or revulsion … not here.



The Big Clock
gives Laughton leeway to dominate, his Janoth described as “an insufferable egomaniac,” a delight to see him play, no more the whipping post. Let him for once make victim of others. The Big Clock must have impressed as something chic for its time, a reveal of what made slick magazines of national prominence tick, this as they touched peaks of popularity. There had been Cover Girl to celebrate fashion in print, Otto Kruger as benign head. Stories set in publishing reflected lifestyles as lush, so could be expensive to mount. The Big Clock’s design dazzles, the Janoth empire as empiric as any apart from Metropolis. Director John Farrow manages a single-take elevator ride with doors opening on one rear-projected-floor after another, the effect seamless as 40’s film could manage, passenger enter/exit at each level, our P.O.V. from inside the lift. Once I met Noel Neill, asked her about playing the operator … she said the job was for one day, Farrow getting the whole in a single take, the actress done and out the same afternoon.



If you’re going to make a light thriller, do please let the initial murder play straight so the rest can generate suspense in concert with levity. The Big Clock knew this recipe and triumphs with it. Dialogue is crisp as a year’s worth of the New Yorker and what passed then as urban sophistication. Was this how moderns spoke, drank, interacted, in 1948? There is rapport among Milland’s “Crimeways” staff; we feel a part of his high-powered honeycomb. Janoth may be a tyrant, but his people seem happy enough with their jobs, exception the mistress he discarded by a sundial he clonks her fatally with, impetus for Acts Two and Three during which momentum does not flag. The Big Clock gets us close to being there as anything contemporary-set from post-war. Movement builds to a hair-split finish, The Big Clock a far-fetch for story but seeming authentic re white collar climb circa late 40's and daily struggle to keep a plush job afloat. Informative is "George Stroud" (Milland) comparing salary received from his old job vs. generous stipend he draws from Janoth, a primer to what was regarded best pay by then-measure, proof again that old movies don't just entertain, they teach. Many judge The Big Clock for smart comedy as much as noir, good reason it should please at least ones who find noir glum. If there are such things as feel-good from this category, The Big Clock fits snug there. Arrow Academy has the best Blu-Ray.



THE BIG KNIFE (1955) --- Clifford Odets wrote the play (1949) from which this was adapted. Fuss over any star signing a “seven-year contract” had dated by 1955, Hollywood a dismally different place, as if ’49 didn’t already reflect a wonderland in collapse. “Selling out” seems misplaced concern where Jack Palance argues it. I never got why his Charlie Castle was so miserable being a popular and high-paid movie star, apart from big boss Rod Steiger shouting tile off his patio. Odets liked movies and writing them but was made to feel guilty about it by pressuring peers who wanted to him to stay East, be poor but proud. Odets admitted later that Hollywood money was plenty OK and that some of his films turned out good (and they were … even The Story on Page One). The Big Knife is Playhouse 90 yelling from a bigger canvas, was suggested by strife and career of John Garfield, who played the Palance part on stage in ’49.



Did studio bosses hold felonies over the heads of contract stars, blackmail a basis for firm loyalty? The Big Knife says yes, and Odets was insider enough by the late 40’s to know. I wish Garfield had lived to play this on screen, as Palance needs adjusting to. Steiger is fun given proper mood. Work like this made his name shorthand for over-top emoting. Tab Hunter told a funny story where Natalie Wood laid on thick a scene for The Girl He Left Behind and Tab said, “Thank you, Mr. Steiger,” her response a day-long pout. Did Rod ever get around to parodying himself? If so, I’d enjoy seeing it. More subdued Wendell Corey benefits for the contrast if not customary skill he applies. A downer end does not appeal, but I guess they did sort of paint Palance’s character into a corner. How could he or anyone survive this steam bath? Director Robert Aldrich gets much energy from pretty much a single set. He knew hell that Hollywood could be. Wish he had left a memoir, though there is career study, with many interviews, by Edwin T. Arnold and Eugene L. Miller, Jr. The Big Knife is available on a nifty Blu-Ray from Arrow.

Other noirs starting with "B" elsewhere at Greenbriar: Beat the Devil, Berlin Express, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, The Big Boodle, The Big Combo, The Big Heat, The Big Sleep, and The Big Steal. 

5 Comments:

Blogger Filmfanman said...

Judging from those titles, film people were thinking big back then.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great supporting cast in THE BIG CLOCK: Elsa Lanchester, George Macready and a mute and ominous Harry Morgan!

8:53 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Great picture of Marilyn Monroe on the header. It exemplifies D. W. DeMille's statement. "To get the public in we must promise them the Devil but when they sit down they want God. They won't come in for God but they want God." Of course, with THE TEN COMMANDMENTS he offered the audience God and got them in.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"C. B. Demille's statement." (Head was in another space). Both C. B. and D. W. were great at putting bums on seats. Their films premiered in 5,000 seat theaters. Today's movies premiere in 500 seat theaters.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Regarding The Big Knife: The idea that anyone would care about Jack Palance's "problem" was and continues to be laughable. And Rod Steiger gives his usual overheated Brando impersonation only minus the latter's genius. The Broadway revival a few years ago was no better. The one interesting thing is that the subplot about the hit and run cover-up is based on an alleged incident involving Clark Gable.

10:26 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

grbrpix@aol.com
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022