Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Big Clock (1948)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Big Clock (1948)

In director John Farrow's film noirish suspenseful thriller (later updated as the spy thriller No Way Out (1987) with Kevin Costner) - with a screenplay by Jonathan Latimer based on Kenneth Fearing's 1946 novel:

  • in the opening scene, 1940's New York City media executive and Crimeways weekly magazine journalist-editor George Stroud (Ray Milland) was hiding inside his company's gigantic $600,000 privately-owned corporate clock in the Janoth Publications building's lobby (which synchronized with all other clocks in the entire building and in secondary printing plants and dozens of other foreign bureaus) - the editor-in-chief found himself in a symbolic race against time to clear his own name (as he narrated what had happened to him): "How'd I get into this rat race anyway? I'm no criminal. What happened? When did it all start? Just 36 hours ago, I was down there crossing that lobby on my way to work, minding my own business, looking forward to my first vacation in years. 36 hours ago, I was a decent, respectable, law-abiding citizen with a wife and a kid and a big job. Just 36 hours ago by the big clock"
  • married man Stroud was in the midst of planning to go on a long-postponed honeymoon trip to Wheeling, WV with his wife Georgette (Maureen O'Sullivan) and son, but found himself keeping late company in a bar with blonde Pauline York (Rita Johnson), the mistress of his clock-obsessed, ruthless and detestable homosexual boss Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), the powerful publishing tycoon of NYC's Crimeways Magazine; he and Pauline (who was extorting money from Janoth) discussed how she might blackmail Janoth; they also bought a sundial and an abstract painting in an art shop during their evening together
  • the film's opening was the prelude to a flashback 36 hours earlier when Stroud had become implicated in Pauline's murder
  • both Stroud and Pauline were drunk when they returned to Pauline's apartment late that night; before entering Pauline's apartment and killing her, Janoth noticed someone else who had just left Pauline's apartment just as he arrived, but did not see the man's face; Janoth pressured Pauline to identify her other presumed lover - she elusively claimed that the man's name was "Jefferson Randolph" to protect Stroud
Janoth's Murder of His Mistress Pauline
(She Claimed Her Other Lover was "Jefferson Randolph" To Protect Stroud)
  • the jealous Janoth then killed Pauline after accusing her of having another lover - she snapped back that he was a "cheap imitation Napoleon" and called him "disgusting...flabby"; he struck her in the head with the phallic-shaped, heavy metal sundial - and there was a contorted closeup of Janoth's grotesque face with a twitching upper lip
  • to cover up his crime, Janoth cleverly planned to blame the murder on the other man; Janoth confessed his crime to his right-hand man Steve Hagen (George Macready), and had him cover up all evidence of the murder (including setting Pauline's clock - broken at the time of her death - ahead one hour), to frame the other man for the killing
  • the bulk of the film was the ensuing cat-and-mouse game by Stroud who was enlisted by Janoth to investigate the case and find the killer (who was witnessed accompanying Pauline during the evening by many individuals); Stroud feared that his investigation would lead to only one man - himself!; he realized that all the clues pointed to himself as the prime suspect, so he desperately attempted to steer the manhunt away from himself, and find information to incriminate Janoth by using a method of "irrelevant clues"
  • at the film's end in a taut confrontational scene, the framed Stroud accused Steve Hagen of being the killer in order to smoke out Janoth - causing a raging Janoth to shoot Hagen (after he confessed: "Janoth killed Pauline")
  • then Janoth fell to his death down his building's empty elevator shaft during his attempted escape

Opening Scene - Stroud's Race Against Time: A Prelude to Flashback Going Back 36 Hours

Earl Janoth - Spotting A Silhouetted Man in Hallway Just Before Murdering Pauline

Janoth Enlisting Stroud to Find Pauline's Killer

Janoth's Death in Elevator Shaft


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