film feature: the clock

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The Clock

Film Events at the Walter Reade Theatre
Judy Garland: All Singin’, All Dancin’, All Judy!
July 26, 2011 [festival runs July 26-August 9, 2011]
165 West 65th Street
event web site:  http://tinyurl.com/3f4yz2q

[The Garland Immersion Effect this week has been profound.  Films each day and television screenings most middays and scarcely time to process the experiences between.  As I have noted before, none of this content is totally new to me, as I have viewed it on DVD releases, youtube and other on-line clips, even some film festivals in the past.  And let it be said: nothing, no nothing, can replace the experience of seeing a film intended to be viewed on a screen in a theatre in the company of other film viewers actually projected in that context.  Movies as movies.  Let us pray.]

Tuesday July 26: The Clock (filmed 1944, released 1945)

John Fricke introducing The Clock at the Walter Reade. He will introduce most of the films.

Introductory remarks by John Fricke remind us that this was Judy’s second of four films with Vincente Minnelli as director (Meet Me in St Louis in 1944, then Garland’s sections of Ziegfeld Follies in 1946 and The Pirate in 1948).  Minnelli stepped in to take over directing responsibilities of The Clock after two prior directors either had other commitments or weren’t a good fit with star Garland.  And what he, his actors, the situations, and the City give us on-screen in this dramatic gem is pure magic.

This movie has cameo fun (Arthur Freed in Pennsylvania Station in the film’s first moments, Roger Edens at the piano in an Italian restaurant, Angela Lansbury‘s mom as a late-night diner character, among other stalwarts) and wartime urgency, and luminous black and white photography, and Manhattan as the third main character after secretary Alice Mayberry (Judy Garland) Corporal Joe Allen (Robert Walker).  Dramatic energy comes from in part from Joe’s just-prior-to-shipping-out weekend leave in the big city and in part from two kids from the American midwest who meet cute —  Alice’s damaged shoe heel caused in part by Joe leads to a series of gentle adventures — and in huge part from the rhythms and people of one of the greatest cities in the world.

James Gleason as milkman Al Henry. Would you take a midnight ride with this man?

And our characters take us away.  Joe, the unabashed small town boy, dreams of building a house back home quietly observes “These buildings … the way they go right up…. I’m green as grass.”  Alice and Joe spend Sunday in Central Park and in a museum which moves into a dinner date at a small restaurant and an exquisite pas de deux of conversation that moves between unease that he’s getting too nosey and moving too quickly and melting by his quiet intensity and calm steady observation: “You’ve got brown eyes.”  The small moments and your heart melts.  Post dinner a midnight walk and a kiss in Riverside Park (and a view of a New Jersey amusement park across the Hudson I had never ever seen before on small screens), and an all night adventure with a milkman Al Henry (James Gleason).  Yes, this is our story as a pastiche of small moments. Trusting instincts, worlds in small moments, hope in an instant.

Details pop, music swells (but none sung of course by Garland), we hear a rare-ish 1912 tune warbled by milkman James Gleason “That’s How I Need You” by Joe McCarthy, Joe Goodwin and Al. Piantadosi —

“Like the roses need their fragrance, like a sweetheart needs a kiss,
like the summer needs the sunshine, like a laddie needs a miss;
like a broken heart needs gladness, like the flowers need the dew,
like a baby needs its mother, that’s how I need you.”

Newlyweds Joe Allen and Alice Mayberry Allen. Part two of three-part kiss.

A scene that many fans of this movie remark upon is the penultimate scene of the movie.  We finally end up with Joe and Alice at Penn Station saying good-bye amidst a sea of similar leavetakings — many couples, many lives, a nation at war, everyone doing their part.  The scene I speak of is this final scene’s precursor of several film hours before.  Joe and Alice, newly man and wife, engage in a silent pas de deux of morning be-robed hotel room service coffee preparations.  He smiles at her from his stand at the window (ponder the Minnelli theme of windows — Alice looking out a window of her working girl apartment, airing out her newly dry cleaned dress, pondering the choice before her and this skyscraper hotel window gaze by Joe) and she smiles back, content, happy, fulfilled.  Yes, she gives that look.  They communicate wordlessly in this scene — note an early draft of the screenplay scripted extensive dialogue for the characters but Minnelli’s inspiration to film this silent simple mimed communication is much more powerful.  They are silent until Joe attempts to speak about the future, and Alice cuts him off — we met, we trust, it will be fine.  And then the sequence that grabs my heart every time.  Alice has said her piece, they kiss deeply and sweetly, pause for a quiet laugh, then they kiss again. The three-part kiss. Intensity, quiet laughter and smiling eyes, and resolution.   Perfection in a screening room.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 29, 2011)

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