(The Good – 77.5) Kenneth Fearing’s novel has had two major film adaptations. The most recent was 1987′s excellent Kevin Costner/Gene Hackman vehicle “No Way Out“. The first was this equally sophisticated version which remained much closer to the plot and story of the book. Ray Milland stars as George Stroud, an investigative journalist who specialises in tracking down felons who even the police can’t catch. He does this for Newsways magazine, the jewel in the crown of a news empire owned and ruled with an iron fist by Charles Laughton’s effete, cruel, and clock obsessed Earl Janoth. When Janoth learns his mistress has spent the night on the town with another man (whom unbeknownst to him is Stroud), he kills her in a fit of rage and with the help of his cold and clinical stooge (George Macready), begins a manhunt for the mystery man whom they intend to hang the murder on. And wouldn’t you know it, Stroud is the man they get to lead the investigation.
It’s undeniably a thrilling premise and director John Farrow and his charges know exactly how to get the best out of it. Writer Jonathan Latimer and Farrow tick the well balanced drama and action over briskly yet at all times intelligibly so that the audience finds themselves hanging on every revelation. This nervous tension permeates the film but never to the extent that we’re prevented from savouring the clever and meticulous actions of both the good and bad characters alike. This latter aspect to the movie is backdropped against some absolutely gorgeous production design which is lit and framed to perfection.
The characters are rich and charismatic in different ways with Macready and Laughton relishing their nastier roles. Laughton in particular is a magnificent bad guy, lacing every order with the poison of a rattlesnake. Moreover, the manner in which he talks dismissively and disinterestedly to his minions is a memorable affectation which only adds to the curiousness of his character. Milland was always a cracking lead and he takes charge of this complex tale with aplomb. There are few characters more sympathetic not simply because of the circumstances he finds himself under but also because of the eminent likability of the star playing him. With that charm and presence, Milland adds a bemused humour to the film which Farrow complements with some well timed playful direction. The Big Clock takes many a twist and turn before it finishes and always with class and competence. Few thrillers can match it in premise or execution and for that reason it should be a lot better remembered. (Director: John Farrow; Genre: Thriller)