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New York came to life as never before in MGM's The Clock (1945), eventhough no scenes with any cast members were actually filmed in the Big Apple. Thanks torear projection, ingenious art direction and the memories of directorVincente Minnelli, who had started his career as a designer and directorthere, MGM created one of the most vivid images of New York City life evercaptured on screen.
None of that would have happened, however, if producer Arthur Freed hadn'thad to resort to a third choice to direct the film. In 1943, he had fallenin love with Paul and Pauline Gallico's story of a soldier who meets andmarries a girl during a whirlwind two-day leave, so MGM picked up therights for $50,000. Then, when Judy Garland's erratic behavior on MeetMe in St. Louis (1944) created concern in the front office, he convinced themto make her next film a smaller picture and her first non-musical sincejoining the studio ten years earlier. Originally, Jack Conway, a studioveteran best known for breezy comedies and tough adventures, was assignedto direct, but health problems forced his replacement by Fred Zinnemann,who had recently made the transition from shorts to B-movies. Zinnemann had justscored with his first big-budget film, the World War II drama TheSeventh Cross (1944), starring Spencer Tracy. But he and Garlandcouldn't communicate. His laid-back approach didn't work for an actresswho was desperately insecure about undertaking her first dramatic role.After 24 days of trying to work together, Garland begged Freed to take himoff the film. Aware of their problems, Zinnemann had no problem steppingdown. The studio might have scrapped the picture altogether if they hadn'talready invested a good deal of money in it, including over $60,000 tobuild a copy of Grand Central Station. Garland then asked Minnelli, whomshe had dated for a while after their work together on Meet Me in St.Louis, to take over the picture.
Minnelli threw out most of Zinnemann's footage and also expressed concernover some of the writing. Over the screenwriters' protests, he usedimprovisation on the set to flesh out the characters and create a number ofsurprising comic vignettes. He also worked with the art direction team tore-create various locales he remembered from his New York days, turning thecity itself into one of the film's major characters. In addition, helavished attention on Garland and her performance, and before long, theromance that had waned after their previous film had ended was in fullbloom again. After completing their work on The Clock, Minnelliintroduced Garland to the real New York when MGM sent them there to promotethe premiere of Meet Me in St. Louis. Early the next year, theyannounced their engagement.
The Clock provided a strong role for another troubled MGM performer,Robert Walker. After a series of comedies, the film showed him at his bestin the understated dramatic role of Garland's military suitor. Actually,they had been slated to team for Meet Me in St. Louis before MGMdecided he was becoming too important for the role of "the boy next door"in that film and used it to build up newcomer Tom Drake. At the time,Walker was suffering terribly from the break-up of his marriage to JenniferJones, who was being wooed by independent producer David O. Selznick. Hisproblems led to an alcohol addiction that would eventually kill him. Henever drank on the set, but Garland was aware of his situation. One night,when she and her friends were supposed to be having a girl's night out, shegot word that Walker was on a bender. Garland searched the bars inHollywood until she found him, sobered him up and got him into bed in timefor a few hours sleep before the next day's filming. Even after they hadcompleted the film, she and Minnelli continued their efforts to help Walkerovercome his drinking problem.
MGM turned a tidy profit from The Clock, $2.8 million in grosses onan investment of $1.3 million. The film won strong reviews, too,particularly from the New York critics, who marveled at Minnelli'sre-creation of their city. Though it came up empty when the AcademyAwards® nominations were announced, it now ranks as a minor classic,proving both Minnelli's facility as a director and Garland's power as adramatic actress.
Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Robert Nathan & Joseph Schrank
Based on the Story by Paul and Pauline Gallico
Cinematography: George Folsey
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari
Music: George Bassman
Principal Cast: Judy Garland (Alice Mayberry), Robert Walker (Cpl. JoeAllen), James Gleason (Al Henry), Keenan Wynn (The Drunk), MarshallThompson (Bill), Lucile Gleason (Mrs. Al Henry).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller