By Lara Gabrielle Fowler
One year after Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli fell in love on the set of Meet Me in St. Louis the contemplative wartime drama The Clock came to fruition. Up to this point in Judy Garland’s career, her roles had been limited to girl-next-door types and she always sang at least one song (with the exception of Life Begins for Andy Hardy, for which a song entitled “Easy to Love” had been written but cut from the final project). This marked Judy Garland’s first foray into the field of drama, for which her considerable talent was grossly underestimated. The Clock would be followed later in her career by a number of very successful dramatic roles including one in the epic Judgment at Nuremberg which landed her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Minnelli, in his directorial genius and insight into the inner workings of Judy Garland’s enormous talent, saw in her a flair for drama, and directed her in such a way that it would be easily visible to the audience just how much she could do with the material.
Joe (Robert Walker), a soldier on leave in New York City for 48 hours, meets local girl Alice Mayberry (Garland) when she loses her heel at Penn Station. The two strike up a conversation, and immediately take to one another. He asks her to dinner, and though she is initially hesitant, she agrees to meet him under the clock at the Astor Hotel at 7:00. After going through a series of mishaps together, including a missed bus that ended in a late-night ride with a milk man, they discover that they have fallen head over heels in love. Given that Joe has only a few hours left before he must go back on active duty and knowing this may be their only chance, they decide to get married at once. They must have all paperwork completed before 5:00, closing time at the marriage officiant’s office.
Their process acquiring all the necessary paperwork and blood tests for the marriage is a masterful moment of suspense in the film. We see the hours tick by, and knowing all that they have to get done in that short amount of time, the audience is made to feel the same feelings of rush and urgency that Joe and Alice do. This is a testament to both Minnelli’s direction and the film’s superb editing. As they chisel away the bureaucracy of the system, Joe and Alice encounter those who are unconcerned with their plight, and others who are sympathetic, leading them to arrange everything just in time and catching the marriage officiant as he is on his way to the elevator to catch his train home.
Joe and Alice are married in a makeshift ceremony, punctuated by a loud passing train that drowned out much of the service and the officiant hurried off as soon as it was over. Disappointed in such an unsentimental ceremony, they go out to a cheap cafe for dinner. Alice breaks down over how unceremonious the event was and they depart for a local church, where they quietly recite the marriage service themselves sitting side by side in a pew. Their tranquility is starkly contrasted with the cool indifference that marked their official marriage, and it is a beautiful moment in the film nicely acted by both Garland and Walker.
Shortly after their marriage, Joe boards a train back to his camp. Joe and Alice bid each other farewell with an optimistic and confident “See you soon.” The film ends as Joe leaves, with Alice walking numbly on the train platform. Whether Joe and Alice will see each other soon, or whether they will even see each other again is uncertain. The film’s ending leaves the viewer with his own vision of Joe’s fate, representing the very real emotions prevalent in the last days of World War II.
Fine acting and fine directing make up this real gem of a film, an unusually pensive and thoughtful look at the harsh realities of wartime concerns. It may be thought of as a precursor to The Best Years of Our Lives, examining the difficulties of the active soldier in the same way The Best Years of Our Lives examined the difficulties of veterans. It is a largely underestimated film, and too often glossed over in discussions of quality wartime drama. During the filming, the romance between Garland and Minnelli intensified, and by the end of shooting, they were engaged. They married in June of 1945, one month after the release of the film.
See you next time!
This has been an entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Fabulous Films of the Forties blogathon. Thanks for hosting, CMBA!