Skip to main content

Film Friday: "The Clock" (1945)

My initial plan for today was to write about a Linda Darnell film, seeing that today is her 92th birthday, but then I felt like celebrating Robert Walker's birthday again. What can I say? I simply adore that boy.  So, this week on "Film Friday" I am bringing you yet another Robert Walker film, which also happens to be one of my absolute favorite films of all time.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Clock (1945) follows Joe Allen (Robert Walker), a young soldier who arrives in New York on a 48-hour leave and meets the beautiful secretary Alice Mayberry (Judy Garland) when she trips over his foot in Pennsylvania Station. With no definite destination while in the city, Joe offers to go "a little ways" with Alice and she then takes him on a tour through Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After they bid farewell, Joe chases the bus she is riding down the street and she promises to meet him "under the clock at the Astor at seven." Although her roommate and co-worker, Helen (Ruth Brady), rebukes her for letting herself be "picked up by a uniform," Alice keeps her date with Joe.

After dinner that evening, Joe and Alice become so absorbed in their romantic pursuits that they lose track of time and miss the last bus home. Mistaking it for a taxi, Joe hails a milk truck and its jovial driver, Al Henry (James Gleason), kindly offers them a ride. When the milkman's truck has a flat tire, he and his passengers enter a diner to call for assistance and Al ends up getting punched by a philosophizing drunk (Keenan Wynn). Because Al is injured and unable to continue his milk run, Joe and Alice complete his deliveries and later enjoy an early-morning dinner prepared by Mrs. Henry (Lucile Gleason). After they leave the Henrys, Joe and Alice become separated in a subway crowd and then try frantically to find each other, until they finally reunite by returning to the same place at which they met for the first time, the escalator at Pennsylvania Station. Having fallen deeply in love, Joe asks Alice to marry him before his departure the next day and she accepts. However, Alice is disappointed by their rushed and "ugly" wedding at City Hall, which a series of bureaucratic complications nearly prevented them from having, and it's only after they repeat their vows in a church that she feels truly married. The following morning, the young couple says their goodbyes at Pennsylvania Station, confident that they will be reunited as husband and wife when Joe returns from the war.

Alice Mayberry: Joe, darling, you're coming back. Do you want me to tell you how I know? Two days ago, you came to this city and you didn't know anyone. You didn't know me and I didn't know you. And now we're married. Now we both know that that was meant to be. So don't you see? Whoever makes the arrangements for people, is doing pretty well for us. That's all we need to know. 

After giving her all in one elaborate MGM musical after another, Judy Garland longed for the opportunity to appear in a more modestly scaled production that would allow her to demonstrate her abilities as a dramatic actress. Producer Arthur Freed, on the other hand, didn't think casting his greatest musical star in a straight role was a particularly good idea, since the moviegoing public knew and adored Garland as a singing star and paid good money to see her musicals and buy her records. Nevertheless, he agreed to give Garland "a kick" in this new venture and approached her with Robert Nathan and Joseph Schrank's script for a film called The Clock, based on Paul and Pauline Gallico's unpublished short story of the same name, which MGM had purchased the rights to in 1943. A whirlwind wartime romance between a young G.I. and a New York secretary, The Clock was everything Garland was looking for: it was charming, timely and, most importantly, there were no big production numbers. And so, in the form of Alice Mayberry, Garland had finally found her first dramatic, non-singing role in a motion picture.

When The Clock began pre-production in June 1944, Jack Conway, the man responsible for MGM's first talkie, Alias Jimmy Valentine (1928), was occupying the director's chair. However, while shooting background footage on location in New York City, Conway fell ill and was replaced by the relatively inexperienced Fred Zinnemann, who had just scored his first big-budget film, the World War II drama The Seventh Cross (1944). Despite his newcomer status, Zinnemann was a perfectly capable director, but after three weeks of filming it became apparent that he was not suitably matched with Garland. "I don't know  he must be a good director, but I just get nothing. We have no compatibility," she reportedly told Freed. Accepting the inevitable, Freed soon fired Zinnemann and closed down the picture until another director could be found.

Arthur Freed and Judy Garland on the set
As far as Garland was concerned, there was only one director in Hollywood who could make the film work: Vincente Minnelli. With Freed's permission, she summoned Minnelli to a lunch meeting at The Player's Club, the site of countless on-the-lot conferences, and asked him if he would consider taking over The Clock, a project she throroughly believed in. Minnelli, who had been courting Garland ever since directing her in the musical classic Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), simply replied: "I guess I can look into it. Let me read the script and have a look at the existing footage."

To Minnelli's dismay, each scene in The Clock "seemed to belong to a different picture." Much of the problem, he reasoned, didn't come from Zinnemann's direction, which was "decent, if not great"; it came from Nathan and Schrank's "flat script." Although the duo had succeed at capturing the romantic atmosphere and poignancy of the Gallico's original story, their screenplay didn't play well on screen; it was "confusing, a jumble of different tones and moods." Shortly afterwards, Minnelli told Garland that he would commit to directing The Clock on two conditions: first, that Zinnemann did not object to his taking over; and second, that he would be granted complete creative control over the project. When Zinnemann promised not to stand in the way, Freed and MGM boss Louis B. Mayer happily allowed Minnelli to make whatever changes he thought necessary. Consequently, on September 1, three days after his meeting with Garland, Minnelli reported to the set of The Clock ready to begin his "rescue mission."

The Pennsylvania Station set for The Clock
With the exception of some exteriors scenes that had been shot by Conway in New York, Minnelli scrapped all of the footage already filmed and started anew. His main idea for The Clock was to make New York City an integral character in the story, highlighting its strong influence on the relationship between Joe and Alice, the film's central couple. Because World War II had not yet ended, filming The Clock entirely on location was considered to be too expensive and impractical. Consequently, the interiors of famous New York landmarks, including Pennsylvania Station and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were meticulously reproduced on MGM's Culver City soundstages. To create the required atmosphere, the studio footage shot by Minnelli was then combined with the backgrounds previously captured by the location crew through the use of photographic plates, which were projected as backdrops in front of the actors, a technique that proved both effective and inexpensive. In the end, the New York City presented in The Clock was "more than a passive backdrop for romance; it became a lively participant, pushing the lovers together in some scenes, separating them in others."

Wanting to prevent The Clock from being "drowned in a gush of sentimentality," Minnelli asked Nathan and Schrank to revise some scenes that he was not entirely happy with. For instance, in the original screenplay, there was a sequence set by the pond in Central Park, during which Joe befriends a young boy who is helping him rig the sails of a boat. When the boy falls into the pond and a policeman wants to arrest him for swimming, Joe and Alice pretend to be his parents. Finding this utterly clichéd, Minnelli decided that when Joe attempts to befriend the boy, he would get a kick in the shins for his trouble. "I don't understand. I'm usually good with kids." he says, very confused. The problems that Joe has with children then became a recurring theme throughout the film, adding another layer of charm to the story and the relationship of the young couple.

Robert Walker and Judy Garland in
a publicity still
Despite the erratic behavior she had showed on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis, Garland was in particularly good shape during the filming of The Clock. She trusted Minnelli completely and they were as visibly entwined as any couple could be. When MGM sent them to New York for the opening of Meet in St. Louis in late November, Minnelli showed her a new side of Manhattan, introducing her to some of his theater friends and taking her to the actual spots were much of the action in The Clock was supposed to have occurred. Early the next year, they announced their engagement and were married in June 15, 1945.

If Garland was on her best behavior, her co-star, Robert Walker, was a mess. At the time, he was suffering terribly from the dissolution of his marriage to Jennifer Jones, who was already involved with producer David O. Selznick in a much-publicized affair. The pain from the break-up led to an alcohol addiction and he soon began exhibiting sudden, scary personality changes. Although Walker never drank on the set, Garland was aware of his situation and decided to nurse him throughout the shoot. On more than one occasion, she, her make-up artist, Dottie Ponedel, and her publicist, Betty Asher, went from bar to bar looking for Walker, finding him either drunk or passed out. Then, they would bring him home, dry him out and get him into shape for the following day's work. Despite Garland's continued efforts to help Walker overcome his drinking problem, he never recovered from his severe depression and his life was cut short tragically in 1951, at the young age of 32.

Robert Walker and Judy Garland
The Clock was an immediate critical and commercial success upon its premiere at the Capitol Theatre in New York in May 1945. The notoriously analytical Bosley Crowther liked the film summed it up perfectly in his review for The New York Times: "A tender and refreshingly simple romantic drama [...] The Clock is the kind of picture that leaves one with a warm feeling toward his fellow-man, especially toward the young folks who today are trying to crowd a lifetime of happiness into a few fleeting hours."

Critics were particularly impressed by Minnelli's talent with the camera, specifically the Penn Station crane shots. TIME magazine, for instance, wrote, "[Minnelli's] semi-surrealist juxtapositions, accidental or no, help turn The Clock into a rich image of a great city. His love of mobility, of snooping and sailing and drifting and drooping his camera booms and dollies, makes The Clock [...] one of the most satisfactorily flexible movies since Friedrich Murnau's epoch-making The Last Laugh [1924]." Similarly, the critic Manny Farber observed, "The Clock is riddled [...] with carefully, skillfully used intelligence and love for people and for movie making and is made with a more flexible and original use of the medium than any other recent film." Judy Garland, too, received her fair share of praise for her performance. In The Nation magazine, James Agee, the era's most renowned film critic, noted that The Clock showed "for the time beyond anybody's doubt that Judy Garland can be a very sensitive actress. In this film, Miss Garland can handle any emotion in sight, in any shape or size, and the audience along with it."

Not long after The Clock finished production, Garland sent Minnelli a present, a desk clock. Attached to it, was a note expressing her sincere gratitude for everything he had done for her:

Whenever you look to see what time it is I hope you'll remember The Clock. You knew how much the picture meant to me and only you could give me the confidence I so badly needed. If the picture is a success (and I think it's cinch) my darling Vincente is respnsible for the whole damn thing. Thank you for everything, angel. If I could only say what is in my heart but that's impossible. So I'll say God bless you and I love you!

A Hundred or More Hidden Things: The Life and Films of Vincente Minnelli by Mark Griffin (2010) | Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clark (2001) | Hollywood Songsters: Singers Who Act and Actors Who Sing, Volume 2 by James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts (2003) | Vincente Minnelli: Hollywood's Dark Dreamer by Emanuel Levy (2009) | TCMDb (Articles) | The New York Times contemporary review by Bosley Crowther


  1. Just finished watching this for the first time. I had checked it out from the library and when I saw you had written about it waited to read your post after I watched it.

    Judy's performance was beautiful. She can express so much emotion on her face.

    That's so sad about Walker. I can't imagine making a romance when your personal life is going so terribly.

    1. I completely agree with you about Judy. She is absolutely stunning in this film. I wish the big bosses at MGM had given her more opportunities to showcase her dramatic abilities.

      I know! It breaks my heart to know that Robert Walker was in such a bad place while he was making this film. But the fact that he delivered such a touching performance, despite his drinking problems and everything that was happening to him at the time, only comes to show how great of an actor he actually was.

      Thanks for reading. :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an