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 Hugo. his loving tribute to the movies.
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.
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.
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
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.
There are plenty of other films where clocks play an essential part. Let’s here some!