STUDIO: Warner
MSRP: $19.98
RATED: Not Rated
• Vintage short: Hollywood Scout
• Classic Cartoon: The Screwy Truant
• Lux Radio Theatre adaptation
• Theatrical trailer

The Pitch

This is the final countdown.

The Humans

Judy Garland (Presenting Lily Mars), Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train), James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), Keenan Wynn (Laserblast)

The Nutshell

Joe (Walker) is an Army corporal on two days’ leave. He’s a small-town boy and New York City overwhelms him even before he can find his way out of Penn Station. A chance encounter wins him an amateur tour guide in Alice (Garland) and their casual acquaintance rapidly evolves into something more. They stay up all night talking, have a fight and fall in love, get separated and find each other again. Can they get married before he has to ship out? The Big Apple won’t make it easy for them.

"Try again. That’s my bellybutton."

The Lowdown

This is a charming film, buoyed by its appealing young leads. Director Vincente Minnelli recreates New York through imaginative sets and trick photography—his rendition of the 7th Street escalator is a marvel of MGM stagecraft—and peoples the film with authentic background color. But there’s a darkness to it, and not just because one can’t quite put out of one’s mind Ms. Garland’s unhappy life, or Mr. Walker’s early death.

As with many of Minnelli’s other films, troubling themes lurk beneath a shiny surface. Time is running out. Our young couple has one day left together and they voluntarily spend more than half of it stuck in the legal system, getting blood tests, procuring permits, and getting their vows recorded in what turns out to be an unnervingly impersonal civil ceremony. Why the emphasis on paperwork, you ask, when they could just, say, run up to her apartment?

The implication, unspoken because the characters can’t bear to speak it, is that Joe won’t be coming back alive. It will be up to Alice to preserve his memory, to survive him, and Minnelli subtly indicates that she may bear his child as well.*

"You were right. Rhamses gives the best backrubs."

Although Japan’s surrender was still months away at the time of the film’s release, the War is barely mentioned. Watching The Clock today, it’s fascinating to see such a normalized portrait of civilian life in wartime: there are a lot of uniforms running around, and Alice’s roommate’s boyfriend is unquestionably 4F material, but there’s no visible propaganda, no references to rationing, not even the stock Air Raid Warden for comic relief. It’s escapist… and at the same time, not so much.

Special acting honors go to Gleason as a friendly milkman who gives our heroes an early-morning ride, a glimpse of happily-married life… and a politically-connected leg up at the courthouse. It’s a lovely role, supported by Gleason’s real-life wife, Lucile.

Wedded bliss. Ya got a problem with that?

The Package

Print and transfer quality are slightly substandard for Warner Home, but it is Warner Home we’re talking about. No serious complaints.

What’s in the box? Aw c’mon, what’s in the box?

We get a nice selection of period-specific bonuses. Hollywood Scout is a collection of novelty animal acts featuring a balancing dog and a possibly out-of-control bear; The Screwy Truant (1944) is one of the better showcases for Tex Avery’s forgotten character Screwy Squirrel, and unlike the film contains several direct wartime references. The radio play, which features Garland reprising her performance, is a pleasant listen in its own right.

8 out of 10

*See, the Production Code didn’t permit the depiction of extramarital sex. Neither this film nor Preston Sturges’ brilliant The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek would have played out the way they did if the heroine could have gotten knocked up without getting hitched first. In the case of The Clock, Joe and Alice may be taking military spousal benefits into consideration, but that subject doesn’t come up.