by John Grant
US / 90 minutes / bw / MGM
Dir: Vincente Minnelli (reportedly helped by Fred Zinnemann)
Pr: Arthur Freed
Scr: Robert Nathan, Joseph Schrank
Story: Paul Gallico, Pauline Gallico
Cine: George Folsey
Cast: Judy Garland, Robert Walker, James Gleason, Keenan Wynn, Marshall Thompson, Lucile Gleason, Ruth Brady, Chester Clute.
Corporal Joe Allen (Walker), an Indiana boy home from the war on furlough with no knowledge of where next in the combat zone he’ll be posted, finds himself in New York’s Grand Central Station with no real clue as to what to do with himself. Just then, pretty office worker Alice Maybery (Garland) trips over his foot, breaking the heel on her shoe. The chance encounter leads them to a trip around the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in due course out on a date—she standing up her regular squeeze Freddy, her romance with whom, we soon understand, is the creation of her roomie Helen (Brady), who would like her to be less giddy-headed and start going steady.
Soon they’re convinced there’s a romantic inevitability in their having tripped over each other:
Alice: Suppose we hadn’t met?
Joe: We couldn’t not have met.
On the way home after midnight from Central Park they’re picked up by milk-cart driver Al Henry (James Gleason); most “comic relief” characters of the period seem woeful to us now, but Gleason’s has weathered well. When he gets socked by a drunk (Wynn, in a bravura performance), the young couple decide to deliver his milk for him.
Joe: I don’t know, though, I don’t think it’s fair to the girl, a soldier getting married. He doesn’t know what condition he’s going to come back in . . . he may not even come back at all.
From there on it seems they’re fated to be married. But, thanks to a succession of moronic bureaucracies, this takes far longer than they’d like; only after they’ve jumped through a gazillion hoops to qualify for a civil marriage do they discover this isn’t enough (one of the dehumanizing requirements is that they have to acquire blood-test certificates). In a very effective final sequence they sit in St Patrick’s Cathedral and recite a version of the marriage ceremony to each other. After that they are, in their own terms, married; today, of course, they’d not wait for the clerical okay. Only when they’ve conducted their own form of the Catholic wedding ceremony in a cathedral do they feel finally able to consummate the relationship.
There’s so much to like about this movie, not least that the romantic pair aren’t what they should be. He’s exactly the opposite of the studly seducer—he’s the Joe Schmoe with a good sense of humor . . . which is likely why she responds to him so much. He’s a Mork to her Mindy, his Indiana naivety contrasting with her Manhattan worldly-wisdom . . . except that she discovers she prefers his naivety to her—and more especially Helen’s—sophistication.
The Clock does, in its later stages, start to get a little long, but before that it’s a paradigm of what romantic movies should be. Here’s Alice on the limitations of her civil marriage with Joe: “It was so, so . . . ugly.” Yet her final “church wedding” is little better.