Friday, June 22, 2012

classic film favorite: the clock

Alice Maybery (Judy Garland), "Sometimes when a girl dates a soldier she isn't only thinking of herself. She knows he's alone and far away from home and no one to talk to and ... What are you staring at?" 
Corporal Joe Allen (Robert Walker), "You've got brown eyes."
The Clock is a little wartime romance, featuring Judy Garland in her first dramatic role as a young working woman in New York who meets a soldier played by Robert Walker in Penn Station. They have a whirlwind romance over the course of his two-day leave before he ships out for points unknown. Garland and Walker have great chemistry, and the film hurtles along as the couple visit the Central Park Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, go on a date that lasts through the night and which takes them on an adventure with a friendly milkman (James Gleason) and other quirky New Yorkers.

A meet-cute at Penn Station
The camera (and the director) loves Judy
Riding home on the milk truck after an all-night delivery
Director Vincente Minnelli (Garland's husband-to-be) films his leading lady as both beautiful and alien — the soldier has never met anyone like her. He is enchanted by her innocence, but also her self-reliance and seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the city she loves. Robert Walker is diffident and adorable. His soldier falls hard and pursues the object of his desire relentlessly, but somehow the wartime setting keeps it all innocent and sweet.

The Clock, like so many films that came out of Hollywood in the 1940s, presents an idealized view of America and Americans. Could anyone have ever been so pure, so innocent, so polite, so nice? We would like to think they could. It is part of a nostalgic myth of America and its past that we hope is true. Was New York City really like it's depicted in The Clock during wartime, with people willing to go to any length to help a soldier and his girl? The story convincingly captures how people must have felt at such an uncertain time — that falling in love might truly be "now or never."

Minnelli makes New York City such a huge part of the story and fabric of the couple's romance that it is hard to believe that The Clock was filmed entirely on the MGM studio lot, complete with a huge replica of Penn Station. Minnelli's New York is complete with its pushing crowds on the subway and on the street, and full of "typical" New Yorkers that the couple befriends, like Keenan Wynn, who has a brief and funny cameo as a drunk in a sandwich shop.

One wonders when Walker's soldier comes back from the war — and he must come back, Judy's character says so — if he will be able to whisk his bride away from her job and the city that she loves so much to wherever he's originally from in the Midwest. Seems doubtful. New York is the city where they first met and a huge feature of their romance. But Walker's return and their wrangling over where to live would have been another movie, and one that would never have been made, anyway. The Clock is innocent and delightful just as it is.
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