Man Against Time

When author Kenneth Fearing wrote The Big Clock’s source novel, he worked at Time magazine, under publisher Henry Luce. Big Clock’s story concerns a barbarous publisher, trapping his employees in fear and blackmailing them to work extended hours. It’s not difficult to see Fearing projecting.

In fact, the clock in the title is a lyrical metaphor. As it stands in the main hall of a publishing company, time slips away. To the owner Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton), minutes and seconds represent money. Clocks never stop when he’s around. To hard-working crime weekly editor George Stroud (Ray Milland), it’s what time is left to clear his name of murder.

Big Clock’s immediate post-WWII distinction captures a capitalistic ruthlessness. Returning from overseas combat to a boss equal to that of a commanding officer – but for no greater good other than profit – never lost relevancy in the American workplace drama. Neither does the the panic over print media’s sinking sales. Big Clock doesn’t predict the internet, although the desperation over drooping distribution and increasing need for inflammatory stories still resonate.

It’s demonstrating anxiety for a wrongful conviction as much as working man fears

Capturing attention is a smart, wily innocent man noir. Milland’s intelligence as he realizes a framing tactic becomes weaponized. He’s an imperfect man, addicted to work and attracted to women other than his wife, the flawed protagonist to give the character depth beyond a dim screen hero. Laughton, though, he’s a master. Indifferently stroking his mustache, oblivious to his writer’s needs, and flaunting wealth, this isn’t a subtle performance but one capturing the heated satire of Fearing’s work.

Although stretching into city bars and an occasional apartment, Big Clock primarily contains itself to the office building. Soon, there’s a clever game of chance. Milland slips around corners, hides in shadows, or plays elevator tag to avoid potential witnesses who might place him at the crime. It’s demonstrating anxiety for a wrongful conviction as much as working man fears, avoiding superiors less they ask him to stay late.

With a unique touch, moments in the script reach for comic release. Dealings with an eccentric art critic (Elsa Lanchester) bring hearty laughs, and poor reporters shuffled out of state on dead-end leads draw additional light-hearted relief. Big Clock weaves some dark, wacky morbidity into its story. When the clocks serve their purpose, they do so with witty symbology. They stop. “The first time in 12 years,” spouts Laughton. If only he knew the literalness of time being brought to a standstill.


Arrow’s presentation is disappointing and lackluster. For Arrow, especially. The print used suffers from consistent and even heavy damage. Scratches and dirt sit on most of the frames. Intensity varies.

Resolution falls to the wayside too, kinda crummy and murky in this era of pristine 2K/4K masters. What’s here looks dated, with some notable ringing and halos on contrasting edges. There’s detail – a couple close-ups shine with their clarity – but the overall feel lacks definition.

Likely by way of light sharpening, grain becomes pronounced and a little chunky. That, or this is just an older scan. Gray scale sags too, missing density in the shadows, leaving some key dramatic scenes washed out without the intended impact. Mill Creek’s recent Noir Archive Blu-ray set contains (sometimes) better masters.


PCM audio follows the same pattern as the video, untouched and stale. Piano work during the opening credits strain the highs, coarse and overloaded. Big Clock keeps to a harsh, high-end, treble for most of the runtime.

A bit of static runs through the center too. Not unnatural, if a sign that little was done to remaster this track.


Adrian Martin provides a commentary track, with Adrian Wootton speaking during a 23-minute video essay that delves into what makes The Big Clock interesting. Simon Callow speaks on Charles Laughton’s career for 17-minutes. A radio performance of the story joins other promo material (trailer, image gallery) to round off the extras.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Big Clock
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras


A clever take on a working man’s life, The Big Clock hinges on personal satire from its satire and pleasing humor to break the drama.

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