The Clock (1945)

23 07 2014

Hollywood is the place where the most hopeless of cynics finally lay down their insecurities and admit that love is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Romance filmmakers in Hollywood often swing for the fences and sometimes the results are transcendent (Frank Borzage) and other times, we get a film like The Clock, which is admirable enough non-musical effort from Vincente Minnelli. The reason Minnelli’s boy-meets-girl fable falls apart is not because it is difficult to believe, but instead because it so flippantly portrays its romance that it is difficult to read it as anything else than just an advertisement for the idea of love. Perhaps this is what a lot of Hollywood romances were and what many modern ones inspire to be, but the parts of this film suggest something far more courageous that the disappointment is deeper.


Joe Allen, on a two day military leave, finds himself in the inspiring and overwhelming monster that is New York City. Upon arriving at Penn Station, he bumps into Alice Mayberry. Alice, like the rest of the city’s inhabitants, seems to be in a rush, but she is eventually taken by Joe’s small town charm and she agrees to spend the afternoon with him. The budding friendship blossoms into something more as the two get into plenty of mischief running around the city. The question is, will their short time together be enough for them to stay together when Joe has to return back to the military.


I would like to state that first off, Vincente Minnelli does not deserve all the blame here. He tries pretty much everything in his cinematic power to capture the sort of magic that is a new romance is meant to evoke, in fact he succeeds. The film opens with Joe arriving at Penn Station with a tracking shot that immediately communicates everything about New York City and Joe’s relation to it. Without ever telling us, we already know that he’s never been anywhere nearly as big. His naivety is later confirmed in the dialogue, but Minnelli gracefully speaks for the character with his camera’s movements. There’s inspired moments such as this sprinkled throughout the movie (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Keenan Wynn as a drunk) but they’re not enough to buoy an experience that ultimately suffers from certain cultural expectations.


So where does the film fall apart? Well, at the risk of rehashing old reviews, I’d like to yet again bring up the idea of “decentering relationships” that I first discuss in my review of Hong Sang-Soo’s Our SunhiHong’s film expertly shifts the perspective from the men in relationships to one woman, and in the process, deconstructs many of the grand romantic gestures made by men in older films such as this one. In reality, one would be turned off by such actions. In The Clock, Joe is relentlessly passive-aggressive, which fine enough. I can say that I’ve exhibited similar behavior in certain situations, but here, it is somehow suggested to be a cute and endearing part of Joe’s smalltown makeup. Alice finds him charming, despite the fact she seems to have a life to return to.


There’s something that should be said for what little we know about Alice and what little we’re given about her before she bumps into Joe. To be fair, Joe is an equally opaque character, with not much known about him beyond his involvement in the military in his midwestern upbringing. Yet, we continue to get no details about Alice. Throughout the film’s first half, we get her repeatedly telling both the audience and Joe that she really needs busy and needs to, you know, get back to her life. However, all the other things in her life, indeed the things that would help contribute to making her believable as a person with a life outside of being Joe’s fantasy are erased. We see her roommate and see the fallout of a cancelled dinner plan, but not much else. It is perhaps too much to ask a film to completely eat away at the structures that make the world relatively devoid of pressures for men, but there’s also so much at stake for a film like The Clock.


In the past week, I’ve seen enough public displays of affection to last me a lifetime. I don’t really mind them, but it’s made me think about the problems in a film like this one. I hear many of my peers talk about they “want a girlfriend” with no idea that a relationship is a bit more than something you can just acquire. Films like The Clock, as well made as they are, feed into these ideas. Think of it in this way: beer commercials can’t actually show the product being consumed and often these romantic movies, can’t show the work that goes on within a relationship. Instead, both just show individuals being happy, suggesting that you need to experience this joy for yourself as soon as you can. It’s more than just “getting” a girlfriend, not to mention the possessive and problematic notion of such language.




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