Warner Home Video presents
The Clock (1945)
Alice: Suppose we hadn't met.
Joe: We couldn't not have met.
Alice: I know.- Judy Garland, Robert Walker
Stars: Judy Garland, Robert Walker
Other Stars: James Gleason, Keenan Wynn, Marshall Thompson, Lucile Gleason, Ruth Brady
Director: Vincente Minnelli
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:30m:08s
Release Date: 2007-02-06
DVD ReviewSimplicity is a rare quality in movies, and both studios and audiences often underestimate its subtle power. Yet when a director imbues the less-is-more mentality into a production's mood, characters, dialogue, and plot, the results can often be stunning. Take The Clock. On the surface, this adaptation of a Paul and Pauline Gallico short story resembles countless other wartime romances, but in the hands of Vincente Minnelli it becomes a resonant, lyrical tale full of humanity and bursting with honest, understated emotion. Few films of the period exude as much warmth and tenderness, or feel as natural, and such elusive elements help The Clock strike a universal chord and keep it—pardon the pun—timeless.
Judy Garland (in a rare non-singing role) plays Alice Maybery, an ordinary working girl, who by chance meets Joe Allen (Robert Walker), a lonely and naďve GI on a 48-hour furlough, in New York's Penn Station. Intimidated by the bustle and girth of the Big Apple's concrete landscape, country boy Joe persuades a wary Alice to let him tag along with her as she makes her way home. After a stroll through Central Park, they wander through the well-tread halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and begin to connect, finding common ground as they casually discuss their backgrounds and dreams. A date ensues, which leads to a tentative romance, and a series of both comic and frantic adventures, all of which convince the couple they're destined to be together. But with Joe's leave expiring and an overseas deployment looming on the horizon, their future seems uncertain. Or does it?
Fate is a typical love story theme, but few films embrace it as fully (or put such a positive spin on the concept) as The Clock. Whereas many movie couples find themselves star-crossed, the constellations align for Alice and Joe, who draw strength from the conviction that their union has been preordained. The gods may test their love, but the two believe if they keep their faith, a happy life together lies ahead. Such a spiritual bent sets the film apart from traditional romantic yarns, and though some viewers might find the heavenly choir accompanying the couple's first kiss a bit hokey, the emotions Garland and Walker convey remain true, and make us ponder whether outside forces really do play a part in shaping our lives.
The Clock is also unique in the way its setting influences the characters and drives the plot. Most romances toss a jealous boyfriend or "other woman" into the mix to cause trouble, but Minnelli—in an inspired move—casts New York in that pivotal role, constructing the film so the city both benevolently unites and cruelly divides Alice and Joe. Its urban pulse underscores every scene—a notable feat, considering The Clock was produced entirely at the MGM studios in Hollywood. Seamless rear projection work, along with meticulous re-creations of various landmarks (Penn Station chief among them) lend the movie its pungent New York flavor, and trick even savvy viewers into believing it's an all-location job.
Although it's a stretch to compare this gentle movie to the high-octane TV show 24, the two possess one key similarity. Both employ the clock as a villain—a cold, unforgiving entity that can't be eluded, beaten back, or ignored—and use it to create a sense of urgency and dread. Alice and Joe may not be racing against time to save the world á la Jack Bauer, but with the uncertainty of war and its potentially dire consequences swirling about them, their plight seems almost as desperate. Minnelli, too, seems mindful of the constant ticking, and is careful not to waste a moment of film. "Clocking" in at a mere 90 minutes, The Clock tells its story economically and without pretense, often using light-hearted, slice-of-life vignettes to subtly strengthen the couple's bond. As a result, the relationship develops smoothly and naturally, and despite the constricted time frame, we never question its depth or truth.
Of course, the picture's success hinges on the performances of Garland and Walker, and both contribute excellent work. Garland's palpable warmth and quiet confidence allow her to be both strong and vulnerable, while her radiant smile, infectious laugh, and genuine empathy make it easy to see why Joe would become instantly enamored of her. Walker, on the other hand, brings just the right mix of boyish wonder and manly consideration to his "green as grass" character. At first, he plays up Joe's golly-gee-whiz attitude and puppy-dog demeanor, but as the picture progresses, Walker drops such affectations and files a sincere, mature portrayal.
Yet as much as Garland and Walker rivet our attention, no discussion of The Clock would be complete without acknowledging the dozen or so character actors who add priceless bits of quirky human comedy to the film. Keenan Wynn plays a pontificating drunk to perfection; Marshall Thompson utters only one word, but invariably grabs the movie's biggest laugh; and real-life marrieds James and Lucile Gleason shine as a down-to-earth blue-collar couple who teach Alice and Joe all they need to know about love and devotion. Without them, and a host of other unbilled actors (including Angela Lansbury's mother, Moyna MacGill, as an outrageously prim diner patron), The Clock would be a very different and less satisfying film.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Disappointing is the only way to describe this second-class transfer, which ranks only a cut or two above VHS quality. A flurry of nicks and blemishes detract from George Folsey's lovely black-and-white cinematography, and a nagging fuzziness afflicts the image throughout. The transfer also seems a shade darker than it should, with some scenes appearing downright gloomy. Blacks are rich but muddy, and never flaunt the crisp sheen that distinguishes so many high quality Golden Age DVDs. Thanks to a limited gray scale, contrast is weak, and maddeningly soft close-ups diffuse the emotional impact of critical sequences. The Clock could—and should—look striking on DVD, but Warner's refusal to remaster this beloved romance demonstrates a disturbing (and growing) disregard for the lesser known gems of its classics catalog. Meticulous care used to be a trademark of all Warner transfers, but The Clock shows just how far the studio's standards have fallen.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The original mono track requires a hefty volume boost to reach an acceptable listening level, but supplies clean, clear audio. Any hiss, pops, and crackles have been erased, but the subtle city noises that supply the film with such wonderful atmosphere lack distinction, especially during the evening-in-the-park sequence. The lush, romantic music score also craves more fidelity to fully enhance the drama. Dialogue, however, is easy to understand at all times.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 55m:20s
- Vintage short, Hollywood Scout
- Classic cartoon, The Screwy Truant
- Radio show adaptation with Judy Garland and John Hodiak
A Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of The Clock from early 1946 pairs Garland with John Hodiak, and though it's a treat to hear Judy reprise her film role, the story doesn't translate well to the audio medium. Without visuals, the New York atmosphere is largely lost, and because so much of the drama's emotion is conveyed without dialogue, it's difficult to believe the intensity of the couple's burgeoning love. In addition, the bland Hodiak can't muster the youthful charm and sincerity that's such a vital element of Walker's portrayal and makes the character of Joe so affecting. We're lucky, however, that this 47-minute recording still survives, and, despite its faults, Warner decided to include it on this disc.
The film's original theatrical trailer completes the supplements.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsIf you haven't yet discovered The Clock, it's high time. Other wartime romances may possess more drama and passion, but few can match the heart and soul of this sweet, uplifting film. Garland and Walker embody young love, and craft sensitive portrayals that rank among the best of their careers. Though a weak transfer severely taints the disc's appeal, the movie itself is too good to be denied a recommendation.
David Krauss 2007-02-13