PRODUCTION NUMBER: 1331
PRODUCTION DATES: [Zinneman] August 1, 1944 – August 2, 1944
[Minnelli] September 1, 1944 – November 21, 1944
PRODUCTION COST: $1,034,207.70
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
RELEASE DATE: May 25, 1945
INITIAL BOX OFFICE: $2,783,000
Judy Garland as Alice Mayberry
Robert Walker as Corporal Joe Allen
James Gleason as Al Henry
Keenan Wynn as The Drunk
Marshall Thompson as Bill
Lucille Gleason as Mrs. Al Henry
Ruth Brady as Helen
Uncredited: Moyna MacGill as “Woman in Restaurant”; Arthur Freed, Roger Edens, Robert Nathan, Terry Moore, Ruby Dandridge
Produced by: Arthur Freed
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Assistant Director: Al Shenberg
Screenplay by: Robert Nathan and Joseph Schrank
Based on a story by Paul Gallico and Pauline Gallico
Score by: George Bassman
Recording Director: Douglas Shearer
Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons, William Ferrari
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis and Mac Alper
Costumes superviced by: Irene, Associate: Marion Herwood Keyes
Makeup: Dorothy Ponedel
Director of Photography: George Folsey
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie, Warren Newcombe
Editor: George White
The Clock was Judy’s only non-singing role for MGM, and one of the few times she’s seen in a contemporary story in contemporary clothing. It’s also the last time Judy appeared in a black and white film at MGM.
Judy had wanted to make a purely dramatic film for at least a few years when MGM’s musical producer Arthur Freed greenlit the film with Judy as the star. Musical stars of the era were not considered to be on the same par as dramatic stars mainly because most of the musicals made were light, fluffy entertainment. They weren’t considered as “serious” as their more dramatic non-musical counterparts. However, everyone could see that of all the female musical stars of the time, Judy Garland definitely had the talent to carry a dramatic film. Freed later commented that The Clock was produced as a lark to give Judy something different do work on after the musicals she had recently been cranking out, including the just completed masterpiece, Meet Me In St. Louis.
The Clock was definitely a Freed Unit pet project. It was the unit’s first dramatic film and just about everyone that Freed had gathered to popular his unit was involved. Freed assigned Jack Conaway as the director but after Conaway became ill he was replaced by Fred Zinnemann. And that where the trouble began. Judy and Zinnemann didn’t click at all. The film was important to her. She was passionate about the project and wanted the right director to guide her. Freed later said, “Judy came to see [and said] ‘I don’t know – he must be a good director but I just get nothing. We have no compatibility.'” Freed sent for Zinnemann and the director echoed Judy’s sentiments. The two didn’t click. It’s been suggested that Judy had in fact been waiting for Vincente Minnelli to become available. Minnelli had guided her through Meet Me In St. Louis to great success. Judy felt she could trust his instincts about what was best for her. By the end of filming the two were in love and well on their way to getting married.
Once Minnelli took control, he tightened up some of the loose ends, added some new characters and more importantly made the city of New York a third character. Because the film took place in New York City, and it was the fast romance between a soldier on a 48 hour leave (played by Robert Walker) and a local office worker (Judy), Minnelli wisely saw the city as an influence on the motives and machinations of the young couple. Seen through the soldier’s innocent eyes the city is seen as huge and imposing. Seen through the eyes of the office worker it’s more intimate. Minnelli later said, “I decided at once to make New York itself another character in the story and I introduced a number of crazy people. I used a lot of improvisation, not actually having a new script written, but instead I developed new ideas, new situations and dialogue as I went along.”
With everyone happy, filming proceeded smoothly. The result is a lovely wartime love story that has stood the test of time and is still as enjoyable today as it was when it was released. Most of the wartime romances made during this have not aged well due to their in-your-face patriotism. But thanks to the real chemistry between Judy and Robert, and Minnellie’s sensitive direction, The Clock is a minor masterpiece of the genre.
When The Clock was released on May 25, 1945, the appetite for this type of wartime romance had waned. World War II was nearing its end and since it was obvious the Allies were going to win, audiences were anxious to get back to normal. The urgency of a young man and woman during a 48 hour leave wasn’t as timely as it had been. The film still popular, made a good profit, and got glowing reviews. But audiences preferred to hear Judy sing, and that’s what they got for the rest of her tenure at MGM.
When director (and Judy’s future husband) Vincente Minnelli joined the project, he famously made New York City a third character in the narrative. The city bring the couple together but also temporarily separates them. In most of the scenes, there is constant activity going on around out two leads. They’re almost never alone, with people rushing around and going on with their lives sometimes affecting the couple and sometimes not.
Shown here are all of the location shots used in the film to convey the big, bustling city. The final shot shown here is a location shot used as rear projection for the view from the couple’s hotel room.
The Clock was very much a Freed Unit production. It was a labor of love for all involved, who wanted to give Judy the chance to prove herself in a purely dramatic, adult role. As seen in the following screenshots, everyone was in on the action and there were a few uncredited appearances by veteran actors and one future star.
In order: Producer Arthur Freed lights Robert Walker’s cigarette. The Freed Unit’s musical genius (and Judy’s mentor) Roger Edens is at the piano in the restaurant. The Clock screenwriter Robert Nathan smokes a cigar in the Astor Lobby set. Veteran actress Ann Codee has a great bit delivering the line, “Under the CLOCK at the ASTOR at SEVEN!” Angela Lansbury’s mother Moyna Macgill is harassed by a drunken Keenan Wynn. Macgill is possibly best known for her role in the screen adaptation of “My Fair Lady” as Lady Boxington in the Ascot Gavotte scene, also uncredited. Future screen star and Academy Award nominee Terry Moore was just 15 years old when she played one of the schoolgirls in the museum. She’s the girl on the far right.
It’s remarkable to think that all of the scenes with Judy and Robert were filmed on MGM soundstages and the studio’s backlot (the famous New York Streets). This meant that all of the extras had to be choreographed to match, compliment, or impede the action. And costumed appropriately. While some of the scenes are obvious rear projection, other scenes are so realistic one would swear they were filmed on location. Most notable are the subway scenes where the couple gets separated. The congestion and crowding is realistically claustrophobic.
The most famous set in the film is the fantastic recreation of Penn Station. It would have been unfeasible to film at the actual station, so MGM recreated the entrance and lobby in meticulous detail. Even the famous escalators, although here they are some more movie trickery, being conveyor belts rather than actual escalators. But the viewer is none the wiser.
The screenshots and studio photos below show how clever MGM was in creating a New York feel while staying in California. This was accomplished by the combined use of sets, rear projection, and matte paintings.
The first shots feature the studio’s recreation of Penn Station, including the outside columns and Joe’s (Robert Walker) intimidation. ** The fake escalators features in the “meet cute” scene. ** Alice (Judy) and Joe (Robert Walker) ride the bus to the park and watch some clowning sea lions. ** The couple then walks through a Central Park set that cleverly and seamlessly segues onto a rear-projection street scene. ** After their trip into the museum the couple is back on the rear projection street for the bus stop scene. ** That scene also cleverly mixes studio sets and rear projection. ** That’s followed by more rear projection and the use of a treadmill for Robert Walker to run on while trying to catch up to Judy’s bus and communicate with her. ** It’s highlighted by the marvelous veteran actress Ann Codee in an uncredited bit. ** The recreated lobby of the Astor Hotel is another wonderful set, followed by another Central Park set that uses more rear projection for one shot. ** This is followed by two screenshots of street scenes which are a combination of MGM’s backlot (the “Eastside Street” in the “New York Streets” section, and matte paintings. ** The couple then delivers the milk for James Gleason’s character in a shot of MGM’s “Brownstone Street” and a wide screen shot also filmed on the “New York Streets” on the backlot. ** Robert Walker is seen on the “Fifth Avenue Street” on the backlot, followed by another shot of the Astor Hotel set, then back to the “Fifth Avenue Street” for the scene where Judy and Robert enter the cathedral. The interior is a fantastically detailed set, enhanced by some matte painting magic. ** The last shots show the final farewell scene, a return to where the story began on the studio created Penn Station set.
Most of the film was shot on MGM’s famous backlot #2, specifically the “New York Streets.” One of those streets is the “Eastside Street” which is where Judy and Robert Walker walk down as seen in the video below. This is the same street that Judy and Peter Lawford perform “A Fella With An Umbrella” in Easter Parade (1948). It’s also featured prominently in Babes on Broadway (1941). Judy’s first time on the street was in 1937’s Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry. In all of the films the action takes place on this same stretch of street on this same side.
As noted above, director Vincente Minnelli (and his brilliant crew) created a real sense of the bustling busy city even though it was filmed at the studio. This sequence showing the separation of Judy and Robert Walker’s characters in the subways is so well done one would assume it was filmed on location. It’s a mini-masterpiece that required the expert choreographing of all of the extras along with the two stars, and the camera, and the lighting (and more) to create “realism.” They sure succeeded!
TIMELINE PART ONE:
TIMELINE PART TWO: