07 September 2012

The best Judy Garland film I'll bet you've never heard of

Everybody is familiar with Judy Garland (whether or not they know it). The Wizard of Oz is probably the most seen movie of all time. Equally iconic is her portrayal of Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester in 1954's A Star is Born. And of course, she's known for reigning the MGM musical and her "let's put on a show!" movies with Mickey Rooney.
My favorite Judy Garland movie, however is none of these powerhouses. Rather, it's a little movie from 1945 called The Clock, and it's a complete gem. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Clock is a simple story about a soldier and a girl during World War II.

Robert Walker plays Corporal Joe Allen, a young soldier from Indiana who comes to New York City on leave.  He meets Alice Mayberry (Judy Garland) and they spend the day together, watching sea lions at the Central Park zoo and taking in art at a museum.

After meeting for dinner, they realize that they've fallen for each other. Breakfast with new friends, an aged milkman and his wife, make them decide to get married. Unfortunately, getting married takes a while, and Joe's time is running out before he has to go overseas. Finally though, they meet the justice of the peace. With trains loudly rushing past draining out the marriage vows, and witnessed only by the cleaning lady, Joe and Alice say their "I Dos" and become Mr. and Mrs.

Afterwards, they eat their wedding supper at a little diner. Alice finally breaks down in devastation at her disappointment at such a bust of a wedding. It is further rubbed in when, walking past a church, a beautiful wedding is breaking up, complete with friends, family, and a happy couple. Joe and Alice enter the church which is empty, save for the altar boy extinguising candles, and quietly, recite their wedding vows to each other.

The next morning, Joe departs for war with the other soldiers, and Alice, along with the other soldiers' girls, go on with her life and hopes for the best.
There's literally nothing that I don't enjoy about this movie. Sure, the storyline isn't particularly believeable (Really? You fall in love with someone after one day? How does Judy Garland know that Robert Walker isn't going to end up a crazy, murderous freak?) but when it comes down to it, who really cares?

Robert Walker plays the small-town boy with a wide-eyed naivete that is completely endearing. When you get involved, it's really no surprise that Judy's character falls for him. His childlike wonder at everything is adorable, from his confusion at having to buy a bus pass "I guess he (the bus driver) thought I was tryin' to get away with something" to his observation of museums "You know, you can really learn a lot in a museum." He plays the role with such honesty, it's tough not to want to reach out to him.

It seems that people never give Judy Garland enough credit as an actress. She's still esteemed as the greatest musical performer of all time (and rightly so) but she was a really fine dramatic actress. The Clock proves it. She doesn't sing a note, she doesn't take one step in time to music. Still, she shows so much emotion, it's astounding. Not the innocent here, Judy's character is a streetwise girl who is kind of hard-bitten and semi world-weary. It's a really nice change of pace.

Another great thing about The Clock's cast is New York City. Yes, that's right, I included New York City in the cast. Never before have I seen such a fantastic use of a city as a character. It brings Joe and Alice together, it tears them apart, it reunites them.
There's a really fantastic shot of Joe standing on the sidewalk, looking up at the buildings. The tops are always just out of frame, and the shadows cast obscure his face. Watching The Clock, it's really tough to remember that it was shot entirely on the MGM lot- even Penn Station and the Central Park zoo were replicas.  
There's lots of great MGM stock players in this movie as well. James Gleason plays Al Henry, the milkman who helps Alice and Joe decide that their getting married is a must.
My favorite is Keenan Wynn as the drunk. In a performance that was surely improvised, he yells, shouts, and harasses everyone he sees, in particular a well-dressed elderly lady (played by Angela Lansbury's mother, Moyna MacGill) daintilly eating a pastry. As she becomes more and more harried, she speeds up the eating of her pastry until she's literally shoveling forkfulls of it in her mouth and getting tangled up in her pearl necklace. Not only is that the funniest scene in the movie, I daresay that it's one of the best comedy bits ever filmed.

I first saw The Clock in 2007, during a birthday salute to Judy Garland on TCM. I instantly fell in love with it, and I have been ever since.

So here's your mission: Get yourself out to a Barnes and Noble, shop.tcm.com, or Amazon, and get yourself a copy. The Clock is a great treat for any fan of Judy Garland, classic cinema, and wartime romance.


1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to add something to your "article" on "The Clock." As for the you saying the "storyline isn't particularly believeable" that's not true! My mother and father were married before he was shipped out overseas during WWII (they were born and raised in Chicago) and she had dated a few men who either wanted to marry her or "have her wait for them." She knew women who had met and married their "soldiers" while men were on a 3 day pass before they shipped out. She had also told me that she even knew of women who married two men because there was a good chance one of them would not return home and then that way they would have "military benefits" from both husbands. So you see, this movie WAS a part of how life was during war time!!