Clock, The (1945)

“Why can’t we have this one last day together — couldn’t we?”

Synopsis:
During World War II, a soldier (Robert Walker) on leave for two days in New York City meets a pretty young secretary (Judy Garland) and falls in love; soon they’re desperately trying to find a way to get married before he’s shipped back to active duty.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
I was surprised to find myself largely in agreement with Peary’s cynical review of this early Vincente Minnelli film, a rare non-musical for Judy Garland (who Minnelli married shortly afterwards). Peary argues that while “Garland is extremely fetching” (true), the “romance is too calculated to endear us through simplicity”, and the picture itself is ultimately “too proud of itself for its ‘realistic’ characters, innocent romance, [and] ‘honest’ common-folks dialogue”. He forewarns us that “despite the fine cast and a few touching moments, [the] picture may grate on your nerves”. The Clock is the type of film you desperately want to enjoy, given that its heart is clearly in the right place — who wouldn’t root for a pair of such likable protagonists under such imposed duress? Thanks to sensitive performances by both Garland and Walker, we like these individuals right away; and it’s refreshing to see Garland only gradually coming to the realization this random “Joe” is someone she may be seriously interested in getting to know better.

As the granddaughter-in-law of a wartime bride, I’ve heard much about the reality of the romantic climate at the time, which was very much one of grabbing opportunities as they presented themselves — and the storyline is faithful to that general sentiment. I’m sure it hit a nerve with audiences at the time. What ultimately undoes the film, however — as Peary points out — is its attempt to engage the leading couple in a series of “authentic” NYC adventures, most of which simply never ring quite true. While James Gleason is believably wholesome as a milkman who picks up Walker and Garland late at night (and I had no problem buying the idea that he’d take them along for a ride; such night-time jobs can get pretty lonesome), the excitement they subsequently undergo quickly feels calculated to drive the plot forward. Meanwhile, Minnelli’s attempts to infuse humor into the script — such as through the weird performance of a prim older woman (Moyna MacGill, Angela Lansbury’s mother) who glances repeatedly up to the heavens while attempting to eat her dinner through the ruckus caused by drunk Keenan Wynn (perfectly cast) — often fall flat, and seem better suited for a different type of indie film altogether.

With all that said, The Clock does get several things right — most notably the palpable sense on the part of both Walker and Garland’s characters that they’ve been thrown into a unique pocket-hole of fate, one they’d be stupid to turn against or ignore. In the midst of war and leave and loneliness, finding a “soulmate” — even for a few days — would surely feel larger-than-life, and it absolutely comes across as authentic that they’d scramble to find a way to consummate (and legitimate) their brief union. So, despite my overall grumpiness, I’ll concede that The Clock is worth a look on numerous levels, even if it fails to deliver an entirely satisfying package.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Judy Garland as Alice
  • Robert Walker as Joe
  • Fine character performances
  • An effective view of both the charms and frustrations of New York City

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly recommended for one-time viewing — and a must for Garland fans, naturally.

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One Response to “Clock, The (1945)”

  1. Not a must. I find the assessment rather kind and forgiving but, at any rate, can be a little grumpy about ‘The Clock’ myself. It’s an annoying film.

    I saw it once many years ago and had little memory of it. (~and you know what that tends to mean.) On a revisit, I was shocked at how generally awful the script is (esp. the dialogue). I’m sure the film project was undertaken as a simple boy-meets-and-marries-girl thing. …Well, yes, it *is* simple. Some of it laughably so.

    The scene in which Garland and Walker meet is just plain bad, period. Garland’s female roommate who can’t stop talking (we get it, we get it!) is a one-note joke that quickly falls flat. G & W’s first kissing scene is accompanied by an insane choir of angels (the film’s entire score is manipulative and seemingly designed by committee; one of the worst scores I’ve ever heard). A particularly bizarre scene comes right after G & W get married: they’re sitting in a restaurant and Garland soon enters a semi-psychotic state (seriously) about her wedding ceremony (because “it was so…so…ugly!”. …Ugly??? What, was it depraved or something?) I could go on, but why beat a dead horse?

    Working with an inferior script brings out Minnelli’s alter ego desire to over-direct and sentimentalize. So I don’t think any of the performances are all that good, unfortunately. The only one who survives this mess is Keenan Wynn (dependable as always, playing a very entertaining drunk with what seems, at least partially, improv – since his tone is so out of keeping with the rest of the film, thank God – I wish the film were about *him*!).

    Perhaps worst of all is G & W’s ‘morning after’ scene, when we’re meant to feel the afterglow of their first night of sex as newlyweds. A few minutes of silence go by as they simply glance dazedly at each other and make quaint little ‘young love’ motions. Sheesh!

    Not that I’m without a romantic streak – I can understand the impulse behind the film’s premise. I just find the film rather unbearable.

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