Monday, May 4, 2009

Three stars, 16 years apart

Tonight's line-up on TCM includes a pair of interesting movies, which have the same three actors playing roles which aren't always leading roles, but are important nontheless. First, at 8:00 PM ET, is the 1932 movie Payment Deferred, which I recommended back in November when Charles Laughton was TCM's Star of the Month. In addition to Laughton, the cast includes Maureen O'Sullivan as his daughter, and Ray Milland as his cousin, who gets murdered.

The three stars reunited in 1948 to make The Big Clock, which follows Payment Deferred at 9:30 PM ET. By this time, Ray Milland became the star and got lead billing. We see him at the beginning of the movie hiding inside a giant clock, and we quickly learn why he's hiding there. He's an editor for a crime magazine that's part of a publishing empire run by his tyrannical and quirky boss, played by Charles Laughton. (O'Sullivan plays Milland's wife, and has a relatively small role.) One night, Milland meets a woman with whom he spends an evening on a completely friendly basis, before taking him back to her apartment. Milland is about to leave, when he sees Laughton coming up -- it turns out that the woman is Laughton's mistress. Laughton sees Milland from behind but doesn't realize who it is, and goes into the apartment, where he gets into an argument with his mistress, killing her during that argument. Laughton realizes that somebody else had been in the apartment before him, so he has right-hand man George Macready go back to the apartment and frame that man for murder.

As I said before, though, Laughton doesn't realize that the man he's framing is one of his editors. To make things more complicated, Laughton then proceeds to investigate the murder (in attempt to find the man he framed) -- by having his crime magazine running the investigation, since they know quite a bit about crime! This of course means that Milland, the man who's been framed, is in charge of leading the investigation, which he has to sabotage without anybody's realizing it. The Big Clock is an enjoyable mystery/noir, with good performances all around. Laughton is his usual superb self, while Milland is fine. He had already played a wrongly accused man a few years earlier in the movie Ministry of Fear, but is still enjoyable while playing the same sort of role. O'Sullivan doesn't have much to do here, showing up for several scenes as the wife who doesn't get much attention, and then appearing again at the end. Laughton's wife Elsa Lanchester also shows up, playing an artist who is given the task of coming up with a picture of the suspect, but instead comes up with.... Well, let's just say she provides some needed lightening of the movie's tone.

The Big Clock was remade in the 1980s as No Way Out, but the original is the superior movie. Fortunately, it's available on DVD.

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