The Big Clock (film)

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The Big Clock
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Farrow
Produced by John Farrow
Richard Maibaum
Screenplay by Jonathan Latimer
Based on The novel The Big Clock
by Kenneth Fearing
Starring Ray Milland
Charles Laughton
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Daniel L. Fapp
John Seitz
Edited by LeRoy Stone
Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • April 9, 1948 (1948-04-09) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2 million (US rentals)[1]

The Big Clock is a 1948 crime drama film noir directed by John Farrow and adapted by renowned novelist-screenwriter Jonathan Latimer from the novel of the same name by Kenneth Fearing.

The black-and-white film is set in New York City and stars Ray Milland and Maureen O'Sullivan. Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton appear in the film, as does Harry Morgan, in an early film role, listed in the credits as Henry Morgan, as a hired thug. Noel Neill has an uncredited part as an elevator operator very early in the film.[2]


The story is told in flashback. When it begins, George Stroud (Ray Milland), editor-in-chief of Crimeways magazine, is shown hiding from building security behind the "big clock" ― the largest and most sophisticated clock ever built, which dominates the lobby of the giant publishing company where he works, Janoth Publications in New York City.

Stroud is eager to spend more time with his wife (Maureen O'Sullivan) and plans a long-postponed vacation from his job. He sticks to those plans despite being fired for it by his tyrannical publishing boss, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). Instead of meeting his wife at the train station as planned, however, Stroud finds himself preoccupied with the attention being shown him by Janoth's glamorous mistress, Pauline York (Rita Johnson), who proposes a blackmail plan against Janoth. When Stroud misses their scheduled train, his wife angrily leaves without him, so he begins drinking and spends the evening out on the town with York.

Later that night, Janoth spots a man leaving York's apartment, but does not get a clear enough look at him to see that it is Stroud. Although Stroud's evening with York had ended platonically, Janoth assumes otherwise, leading to a quarrel which ends when he murders her. Janoth determines to locate the man he had seen leaving the apartment and then frame that man for the crime. Ironically, Janoth re-hires Stroud to lead the effort to find the man.

Stroud then must balance the tasks of outwardly appearing to diligently lead Janoth's investigation and, at the same time, trying to prevent that investigation from uncovering the fact that it is he who is the very target of it. Meanwhile, he must also secretly carry out his own investigation to gather the evidence necessary to prove who the real murderer is.


Morgan's screen name later would become "Henry 'Harry' Morgan" and eventually Harry Morgan, to avoid confusion with the popular humorist of the same name.


Paramount bought the rights to the novel before publication. (Fearing's earlier novel The Hospital had been a best seller.)[3] The purchase price was a reported $45,000.[4]

Jonathan Latimer was assigned to write the script and Ray Milland to star. Leslie Fenton was announced as director but he was held up on Saigon so John Farrow took over. Filming began February 17, 1947.[5] Charles Laughton was cast as the villain.[6]

This was Maureen O'Sullivan's first film in five years, since Tarzan's New York Adventure, after which she had concentrated on raising her family. She did it as a favor for her husband, director John Farrow.[7]


Film critic Bruce Eder wrote, The Big Clock is a near-perfect match for the book, telling in generally superb visual style a tale set against the backdrop of upscale 1940s New York and offering an early (but accurate) depiction of the modern media industry."[8]

Film writer David M. Meyer calls The Big Clock, "More screwball comedy than noir, The Big Clock's big moments derive from snappy dialogue and over-the-top humor."[9]

In 2001, the American Film Institute nominated this film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.[10]


The story was remade in 1987 as No Way Out with Kevin Costner. The 1948 film is closer to the novel. The 1987 remake, on the other hand, updated the events to the United States Department of Defense in Washington D.C. during the Cold War.


  1. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  2. ^ The Big Clock at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  3. ^ 'Exile' to Head Doug's Independent Program Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 20 June 1946: A2.
  4. ^ FAIRBANKS AGREES TO MAKE 3 FILMS: Actor and International Sign Production Deal--He Will Have Lead in 'The Exile' Laraine Day as Alice Adams Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 20 June 1946: 19.
  5. ^ PARAMOUNT TO DO FILM ON LUDWIG II: Picture Will Deal With King's Patronage of Wagner--Ray Milland in 'The Big Clock' By THOMAS F. BBADYSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 Jan 1947: 26.
  6. ^ LAUGHTON TO PLAY ROLE IN 'BIG CLOCK': Will Appear With Ray Milland in Paramount Mystery Film Based on Novel by Searing By THOMAS F. BRADYSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 25 Jan 1947: 12.
  7. ^ "Husbands and Wives.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 4 May 1948. p. 3 Supplement: The Argus Woman's Magazine. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  8. ^ The Big Clock at AllMovie.
  9. ^ David M. Meyer (1998). A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Guide to Film Noir on Video. Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-79067-X. 
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20. 

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