The Big Clock (film)

The Big Clock is a 1948 American film noir directed by John Farrow and adapted by novelist-screenwriter Jonathan Latimer from the 1946 novel of the same title by Kenneth Fearing.

The Big Clock
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Farrow
Screenplay byJonathan Latimer
Based onThe Big Clock
by Kenneth Fearing
Produced byRichard Maibaum
StarringRay Milland
Charles Laughton
CinematographyJohn F. Seitz
Daniel L. Fapp (uncredited)
Edited byLeRoy Stone
Eda Warren (supervisor)
Music byVictor Young
Color processBlack and white
Paramount Pictures
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • April 9, 1948 (1948-04-09) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2 million (U.S. rentals)[1]

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


George Stroud, editor-in-chief of Crimeways magazine, hides from building security inside the "big clock," which is the largest and most sophisticated clock ever built. The clock dominates the lobby of the Janoth Publications building in New York City, where Stroud works.

Thirty-six hours earlier, Stroud is eager to embark on a long-postponed honeymoon in Wheeling, West Virginia with his wife Georgette and son. His tyrannical boss Earl Janoth wants him to stay to pursue a missing-person story that Stroud has just cracked, but Stroud refuses and Janoth fires him. Stroud goes to a bar to drink and is distracted by the attentions of Janoth's glamorous mistress Pauline York, who proposes a blackmail plan against Janoth. When Stroud loses track of time and misses the train for West Virginia, Georgette angrily leaves without him. Stroud spends the evening drinking with York, and he buys a painting and a sundial.

Stroud and York go to her apartment, but York sees Janoth arriving and Stroud leaves. Janoth sees someone leaving but does not recognize Stroud in the dark. Janoth assumes that York is cheating on him, leading to a quarrel in which he strikes York with the sundial, killing her. Janoth goes to his assistant Hagen and tells him what happened, intending to surrender to the police and confess. However, Hagen convinces him that they can frame the man whom Janoth saw leaving York's apartment for the crime. Janoth decides to use the resources of Crimeways to find the man instead of calling the police.

Stroud has since caught up with his wife and son in West Virginia and tells her that he has been fired, but leaves out his adventures with York. Janoth calls to rehire him in order to lead the effort to find the mystery man (without any mention of York). He discloses enough details for Stroud to know that the mystery man is Stroud himself. He reluctantly agrees to return to his job and lead the manhunt, to Georgette's disappointment.

During the manhunt, Stroud must appear to lead the investigation diligently while also preventing the investigation from identifying him as the culprit. He must also secretly conduct his own investigation to prove Janoth's guilt.

Eventually York is identified by the Crimeways team and witnesses are found who saw her on the town with the mystery man. The witnesses are brought to the Janoth Building. One is eccentric artist Louise Patterson, who created the painting that Stroud purchased. Asked to paint a portrait of the mystery man, she produces a modernist abstract of blobs and swirls.

Stroud tries to avoid the witnesses, but one of them sees and recognizes him as the mystery man. Stroud slips away before the witness identifies him to the investigators, who now know that the mystery man is in the building but do not know his identity. All exits from the building are sealed, and the building's occupants must leave by the main door, with the witnesses watching for the mystery man. Building security men sweep the building to find the wanted man.

Stroud evades the dragnet by various maneuvers, finally hiding in the clock. He confronts Janoth and Hagen and presents evidence that appears to point to Hagen as the killer. Hagen implores Janoth to clear him, but Janoth tells him only that he will provide him with the best possible legal defense. Enraged, Hagen turns on Janoth and reveals that Janoth killed York and that he helped with the coverup. Janoth shoots Hagen and tries to escape in an elevator, but the car is stuck floors below (jammed there by Stroud earlier while evading the security men). Janoth falls down the elevator shaft to his death.


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 (1939) 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]


The film was very well received by critics, and as of October 23, 2022, holds a 100% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[8]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times extolled the film's virtues as a thriller, writing, "When you hear the musical chime at the end of this ticking review of The Big Clock, it will be exactly the time for all devotees of detective films to make a mental memorandum to see it without possible fail." He added that the film "is a dandy clue-chaser of the modern chromium-plated type [and] requires close attention from the start ... Scriptwriter Jonathan Latimer and Director John Farrow have fetched a film which is fast-moving, humorous, atmospheric and cumulative of suspense."[9]

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."[10]

In a 1996 essay film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini discussed Farrow's technique: "Narration and long take are combined to enhance suspense...but the other items of noir style, the dark cityscape, the camera moves, the low-key sets, all these are used to disorient the viewer."[11]

In 1998, film writer David N. Meyer wrote, "More screwball comedy than noir, The Big Clock's big moments derive from snappy dialogue and over-the-top humor."[12]

Dennis Schwartz wrote in 2004 that "John Farrow directs this thrilling psychological film noir with style, though it's barely a work of noir in the full sense of that genre."[13]

In 2001, the American Film Institute nominated this film for AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills.[14]


The story was remade in 1976 as Police Python 357 and in 1987 as No Way Out with Kevin Costner. The 1948 film is closest to the novel. The 1976 remake, on the other hand, updated the events to the Orléans Police Department in France, whereas the 1987 remake 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. ^ Schallert, Edwin (20 June 1946). "'Exile' to Head Doug's Independent Program". Los Angeles Times. p. 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". The New York Times. 20 June 1946. p. 19.
  5. ^ Brady, Thomas F. (17 January 1947). "PARAMOUNT TO DO FILM ON LUDWIG II: Picture Will Deal With King's Patronage of Wagner--Ray Milland in 'The Big Clock'". The New York Times. p. 26.
  6. ^ Brady, Thomas F. (25 January 1947). "LAUGHTON TO PLAY ROLE IN 'BIG CLOCK': Will Appear With Ray Milland in Paramount Mystery Film Based on Novel by Searing". The New York Times. p. 12.
  7. ^ "Husbands and Wives". The Argus. 4 May 1948. p. 3. Retrieved 3 March 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  8. ^ "The Big Clock". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2020-03-19.
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley (April 22, 1948). "THE SCREEN; ' The Big Clock,' 17-Jewel Film, With Ray Milland, Laughton, Is a Dandy Clue-Chaser". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
  10. ^ The Big Clock at AllMovie.
  11. ^ Silver, Alain; Ursini, James (1996). Film Noir Reader, John Farrow: Anonymous Noir. St. Petersburg, Florida: Limelight Editions. ISBN 0-87910-197-0.
  12. ^ Meyer, David M. (1998). A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Guide to Film Noir on Video. New York City: Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-79067-X.
  13. ^ Schwartz, Dennis (January 2, 2004). "The Big Clock". Ozus' World Movie Reviews.
  14. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-20. The Big Clock is 27th on the list of "Most Heart Pounding Movies".

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