Saturday, February 14, 2009

THE CLOCK (1945)

For Valentine's Day, I thought I'd revisit a romantic classic I'd seen only once before, many years ago. In my memory, THE CLOCK was a sweet, whimsical, comic romance about two lonely people who meet cute, share a whirlwind big-city weekend during which they fall in love, then go through some amusing shenanigans trying to get married before he has to go back to war. Sadly, like many things about past romances, my rose-colored memories of this movie proved to be a bit faulty. Robert Walker is a young and innocent farm boy turned solider who is in New York City on a 2-day leave. Killing time among the crowds at Penn Station, he accidentally trips young working girl Judy Garland, who loses the heel of her shoe. They chat each other up and Garland, realizing how lonely Walker is, agrees to spend the day sightseeing with him. The needy Walker practically begs her to meet him for dinner that evening, even though she has a date with her boyfriend; at the last minute, she breaks the date and meets the soldier. Late that night, strolling the streets because they've missed her last bus, the two wind up accompanying a friendly milkman on his route, even finishing his deliveries for him when he's injured by a belligerent drunk. They decide rather impulsively to get married (the wartime context helps explain the rush), and spend the next day in a sad little comedy of errors trying to get through all the red tape before he has to ship out the next morning.

Though the plot is a bit cliché, this film does feel surprisingly modern at times, primarily in its attempt at fleshing out the small-scale romance with some quirky supporting characters and situations. The middle of the film, the nighttime milk run sequence, is the high point, with the always welcome James Gleason (who would play a similar role as the sweet-natured taxi driver in THE BISHOP’S WIFE) adding some much needed humor and whimsy to what is, despite its romantic-comedy framework, not a very funny movie. Early in the film, Ruth Brady and Marshall Thompson provide some amusement as Garland's more worldly roommate, who warns her away from fooling around with servicemen, and her cute but passive boyfriend. The last half-hour, in which they are accidentally parted, meet again (at Penn Station), and desperately try to get married, is an almost total downer. One problem is that neither of their characters is fully developed: Walker, though charming, remains a stereotype of a rural American lad (one remove from being a hick); Garland gets even less background--I think the filmmakers rely on us knowing Judy Garland's movie persona (mostly at the time as Andy Hardy's gal pal) rather than giving her much of a backstory, or even a personality. Though primarily filmed on Hollywood sets, the city does come to life as almost a third central character; the detailed Penn Station set is particularly impressive. When I first saw this back in the mid-90's, I was charmed, but now I find it a strangely unengaging affair which, at only 90 minutes, feels too long. Ah, the folly of looking back... [TCM]

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