Of course, the just-desserts ending comes as no surprise. Instead, the joy of the film is in Laughton’s creepy, but usually controlled, performance, and the fact that it is a well-told, brisk, and cleverly constructed tale. The Big Clock’s theatrical trailer earns its boast of an “ever mounting thrill of suspense,” as Stroud continually dodges the fate that his bosses have tried to lay on him.
While the Janoth Publications empire makes a perfect playground for this story, and its principals are an editor and a press baron, it isn’t so much a story about journalism. There’s a bit of fun tabloid-like swashbuckling, like sending reporters around to check alibis on the premise of conducting a random nightlife survey. And there’s the poor printer who is fired after, for technical reasons, going against Janoth’s wishes and running a headline in green instead of red type.
The one reportorial innovation that Stroud credits Crimeways’s case-cracking scoops to is what he calls “the system of irrelevant clues,” the habit of recording manhunt details which, through sheer accumulation, naturally become relevant. But no matter how hard director John Farrow worked the camera and his actors to make this method—the “Crimeways Clue Chart”—seem revelatory, it’s just a chalkboard.
As for the implicit moral lessons, they track closely with other films of the genre. Be wary of those with power and wealth, especially those who are mean, impulsive, demanding, and promiscuous. And mind the seduction of mammon, which can distract from love and family.
“Isn’t it a pity: the wrong people always have money,” quips one supporting character. It’s an observation that many journalists, working under owners, publishers, and bean-counters less deadly than Janoth, have voiced.
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