Time Keeps on Slipping…Clocks and Movies

Clocks and time have played an important part in many films. They are a harbinger of things to come; deadlines to be met, deadlines that are missed, time moving too fast, too slow or even sometimes standing still. In many films, clocks are filled with symbolism. They can create and build tension, something which many of us can identify with in our own lives. We all learn there is always a limit on time.

In High Noon, time keeps moving closer to twelve o’clock when the noon train is expected to arrive. One of its passengers is Frank Miller, just released from prison and looking to exact his revenge on the man responsible for sending him away, Marshall Will Kane. Today is also Will’s wedding day and his last day on the job. If Frank Miller has his way, it will also be Will’s last day breathing. In 3:10 to Yuma, another western made a few years later, Dan Evans, a broke, small time rancher is hired to watch outlaw Ben Wade and escort him on the train to Yuma where he will stand trial. Ben’s buddies are not going to let that happen as the clock tick down to 3:10.

Harold Lloyd used a clock for brilliant comic effect in Safety Last. Lloyd was a daredevil who, like contemporaries Keaton and Chaplin, did his own physical stunts including the iconic stunt where we find him hanging from the hands of a large clock high up on a tall building with the street far down below. Today, it’s considered one of the cinema’s iconic images. Robert Zemeckis paid tribute to Lloyd’s silent film in Back to the Future when another Lloyd, Christopher, is seen hanging off a giant clock. Martin Scorsese also mimics the clock scene in  Hugohis loving tribute to the movies.

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In John Farrow’s excellent, The Big Clock, the clock itself is symbolic of Janoth’s, Charles Laughton’s character, ego and power. The huge clock is the centerpiece of the lobby in the building where Janoth’s publishing company is located. The clock is also where we find Ray Milland’s character hiding at the beginning of the film as Janoth’s security team hunt for him.

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With Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day the clock and time represent a nightmare for Bill Murray’s egotistical TV news reporter who is forced to live the same day over and over again until he learns to reexamine his priorities.
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The clock in Orson Welles The Stranger works on many different levels. Welles’ Charles Rankin, an alias for Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler, is hiding in plain sight. The only thing connecting them is a love for clocks. It’s his obsession with clocks that tells us, that Rankin’s time in hiding safely is running out. The film’s finale as expected takes place at the town center on top of a building with a large clock

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Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is hardly a fun-filled laugh fest, however, compared to many of his other films,  it does have a compassionate view of life sometimes missing in many of the director’s other works. The elderly Dr. Isak Borg is about to look back on his life. Early on in the film, Borg has a dream where he is walking down an empty street filled with abandoned buildings. He passes by a clock hanging off a building. The clock has no hands. He looks at his pocket watch which also has no hands. The dream sequence goes on for about four minutes cumulating with Borg coming face to face with his own image in a coffin. Life is running out of time for the good doctor. Check out the four minute complete dream sequence below.

In C.B. DeMille’s odd pre-code musical, Madam Satan, there is a musical number where women dressed in alarm clock outfits announce its midnight. Clocks, nor time, play a big part in this film, but if you have not seen it, Madam Satan is a debauch filled oddity that must be seen to be believed.

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There are plenty of other films where clocks play an essential part. Let’s here some!

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10 comments on “Time Keeps on Slipping…Clocks and Movies

  1. This article is great fun and gets the brain ticking away.

    Waldo Lydecker is obsessed with that clock he “loaned” to Laura Hunt. I wonder why?

    Disney and clock inner workings: Mickey, Donald and Goofy are Clock Cleaners in a 1937 short. In The Great Mouse Detective Basil of Baker Street and Professor Ratigan face off in an exciting finale at (and in) Big Ben.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jay K says:

    John, Another remarkable Clock scene is John Alton near the end of ‘Raw Deal’ when Ann looks at the clock on the ship.

    Like

  3. The main one that came to my mind was “The Big Clock” which you covered. Love that movie. I also thought of DOA and although I don’t remember a clock he only has 24 hours to determine who killed him before he dies! Good one!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So many great choices there. A musical pocket watch plays a key role in For A Few Dollars More. The man working a gruelling ten hour shift turning the giant hands on a clock, in Metropolis.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rick says:

    I love these kinds of posts and your picks. Yes, this is also a category in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM THEMES, SETTINGS AND SERIES. Some of the clocks and watches we included there were the ones on SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH, OUR MAN FLINT, LIVE AND LET DIE, PETER PAN, and THE TIME MACHINE.

    Liked by 1 person

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