While drama wasn’t Judy Garland’s core competency, she was nevertheless an accomplished dramatic actress. Her sincerity and the way she wore her heart on her sleeve gave her everything she needed to succeed in the genre. She’s well-matched with Robert Walker in the World War II-era The Clock (1945), her first non-singing lead, because he also had those qualities. I recently revisited the film on a gorgeous new Blu-ray from Warner Archive.
Walker is Joe Allen, an Army corporal on a two-day pass in New York who wants to see the best sights the city has to offer. With his baby-faced earnestness and innocent enthusiasm, he looks like the sort of guy who would be gobbled up by Manhattan. You wait in suspense for someone to pick his pocket or otherwise take advantage of him.
He is saved from such a fate by Alice Maybery (Garland), another innocent not long in the city herself. The soldier helps her to retrieve and fix a broken heel and soon convinces her to accompany him to the museum she has suggested. They hit it off immediately; their chemistry so strong that by the end of the 48 hours they know that they want to spend the rest of their lives together.
The budding lovers get to know each other in a city that encourages their romance. A lonely man across the dining room pays for their meal in a restaurant. In another sequence, Alice and Joe take a ride from a milk delivery man who insists he wants their company in his truck. It ends up being more complicated than that and the way the pair help the man through adversity shows how they share a moral core and the ability to work together, both strong elements for a good marriage.
Their experiences together in the city made me think of other New York-set films. The missed connections they overcome and their youthful loneliness evokes the equally touching silent-talkie hybrid Lonesome (1928). I also saw elements of bizarre nighttime chaos in the city that foreshadowed Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) and that sparkle of instant chemistry and companionability was in the spirit of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995).
Director Vincente Minnelli, who would marry Garland in 1945, films his star with loving care. She glows with the beauty of a woman who is treasured and celebrated. As someone who wanted to be as gorgeous as the most desirable movie goddesses, this must have been a moving tribute for the star.
The film strikes a good balance between the various perils that threaten to part the couple and long, uninterrupted stretches where Alice and Joe get to know each other. While their emotional bond is instant, the world around them is complicated and they overcome a lot within 48 hours of knowing each other. When that time is over and Joe must return to service, the memory of their struggle and persistence inspires a feeling of faith that he will return.
Special features on the disc include the vintage Pete Smith specialty short Hollywood Scout, the cartoon The Screwy Truant, a radio show adaptation of The Clock starring Garland and John Hodiak, and a theatrical trailer.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.