Seeing Judy Garland sans songbook is something of a cinematic shock, but Judge Bill Gibron enjoyed her performance in this 1945 wartime drama.
Every second, a heartbeat.
When Corporal Joe Allen (Robert Walker, Strangers on a Train) arrives in Penn Station, all he wants to do is see the sights of New York and find a little companionship for cuddling. In a classic motion picture meet-cute moment, he causes single gal Alice Mayberry (Judy Garland, A Star is Born) to trip and lose the heal of her shoe. Offering to have it repaired, the two develop a fast friendship. Joe is pushing, wanting to monopolize all of Alice's time. She is wary of such a situation. After all, her roommate has warned her about soldiers coming to the city on leave, looking to find a bride—or something less permanent—before taking off for the front. Still, Alice finds many aspects of Joe very endearing, and as they experience Manhattan together, they grow close. After an odd incident finds them spending all night together, the couple decides to wed. But there's a catch: Joe's time is running out, and the paperwork for a civil ceremony is daunting. Will the pair beat The Clock, or will they fail to scale the bureaucratic hurdles trying to keep them apart.
The Clock represents an odd little bump in the otherwise carefully scripted career of Judy Garland. This wartime drama, featuring the defiantly dated notion of single women marrying random soldiers off to fight in World War II, is a very unusual bit of motion-picture propaganda. In the hands of Vincent Minelli, a 23-year-old Garland is playing the kind of considered career girl who was typical of the early 1940s. Dating the director at the time, and eager to broaden beyond her "all singing" signature as a star, Garland gives an interesting performance, finding the fractured need inside what is more or less a typical typing-pool pawn. Granted, we never once believe her overnight decision to fall for and couple with Robert Walker (who is very mannered and maudlin with his entire "gee whiz" persona), and need the aforementioned social subtext to buy into the main plot contrivance. But thanks to the wistful nature of the narrative, the expertly-realized Manhattan backdrop, and the sincerity pouring out of Garland and Walker, we get comfortable enough to let the movie have its way with us. By the time our couple is running around the city, jumping through all the hoops necessary to make their offhand nuptials a reality, we want to see them succeed.
The screenplay, credited to three separate individuals, has its fair share of hackneyed howlers, lines and logistics that really push the limits of our intellectual tolerance. Taylor and Garland have an awkward meal in a fancy restaurant, during which the GI makes a statement about love that's one of the more ridiculous comparisons ever attempted. Similarly, our heroine seems zombified throughout, barely able to respond in kind. Then there is the extended middle act sequence in which the couple, desperate for a mode of transportation in post-midnight New York, hooks up with a grizzled old milkman. This leads to another misguided moment when a drunken Keenan Wynn chews the scenery for nearly four excruciating minutes. He's the kind of inebriate who gets violent, weepy, and retarded after a few too many Rob Roys, and his presence here is highly problematic. But things are only going to get worse. When the tradesman chauffer takes a sucker punch to the eye (don't ask), Garland and Taylor become glorified deliverymen, dispensing dairy products in a montage that's supposed to be funny, but comes off as staged and stilted. We find the whole situation incomprehensible, especially for a man who's unfamiliar with the city, and a girl who appears almost completely naïve.
Minelli also mismanages the movie here and there. Having replaced a fired Fred Zimmerman, his backlot philosophy undermines some of The Clock's more scenic situations. The obvious rear projection of famous Big Apple landmarks doesn't quite match the carefully recreated sets, and, even with all the extras, one gets the standard Hollywood vibe from what is supposed to be a completely cosmopolitan setting. In addition, there is a lot of stunt directing going on in The Clock, as if this simple drama needed optical "oomph" to keep the movie moving. Minelli indulges in long takes, overhead shots, unusual angles, and odd approaches to realize his vision, sometimes to the detriment of his performers. Garland is good, given over in the second half to a conviction bordering on the manic. The moment where she breaks down, calling her civil ceremony "ugly," is quite memorable, as is her speech post-honeymoon where she guarantees her husband's safe return. Walker is the weak link, a goober given over to too many "aw shucks" sequences. It's almost sinister how inexperienced he plays some of his scenes. You'd swear he was setting Garland up for some major emotional letdown. Thankfully, the movie maintains its gentility all the way through, coming across as an enjoyable minor moment in a superstar's otherwise over-the-top career.
The added content provided by Warner Brothers is really very intriguing. First up is a Pete Smith specialty short entitled Hollywood Scout. These comic vignettes, featuring the loveable everyman character, usually focused on the hilarious humdrum aspects of daily life. In this case, however, Pete puts his assistant in charge of hiring new talent for his films—CANINE talent, that is. It's a lot of dated fun. Next up is a real chestnut—the infamous Tex Avery icon Screwy Squirrel, this time refusing to go to school in The Screwy Truant. While they are doing a delightful job with their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Warners (who now controls the MGM catalog) needs to wise up and make all five Screwy Squirrel shorts available ASAP. This insane nut gatherer is a cartoon classic. Finally, there is a bonus-only radio show, Adaptation. It features Garland and John Hodiak and is just mildly interesting. Add in a trailer and the standard 1.33:1 monochrome image (very sharp and quite beautiful at times) and Dolby Digital Mono mix and you've got a digital recreation of an old-fashioned night at the movies, complete with previews and co-features.
Seeing Judy Garland outside her standard song-and-dance mix is something quite curious. She gives off a vibe of surrendered talent, a capable actress forced into constantly channeling her skill into her obvious vocal genius. For fans looking to see the star in a completely different setting, The Clock is a good way to start. It's not the greatest film ever made, but it does deliver the basic tenets of entertainment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Vintage Pete Smith specialty short: "Hollywood Scout"
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