Billed in some circles as the original Before Sunrise, Vincente Minnelli’s The Clock doesn’t come particularly close to reaching those hallowed grounds, but its structure and conclusion certainly make the comparison understandable. Joe (Robert Walker of Strangers on a Train fame) is a soldier from small-town Minnesota on leave for two nights in Manhattan before returning to duty. Overwhelmed by the bright lights and skyscrapers, he begins nervously chatting it up with strangers, including Alice (Judy Garland), whose high heel mistakenly breaks when she trips over Joe’s foot. Though Alice initially finds Joe a bit grating, she gradually warms to his small-town naiveté, and takes him to the Museum of Natural History. So begins a rapid-fire courtship, which begins in earnest when the pair meet under the clock at the Astor Hotel, and continues throughout the night and following day, when they scramble to tie the knot before Joe’s ship sails. Like Before Sunrise, the protagonists in The Clock dominate the screen—though milkman Al Henry, played by James Gleason, has a larger role than any supporting actor in Linklater’s film—and much of the picture is spent watching Joe and Alice wander around a city, talking and getting to know each other. But while Walker and Garland are both pretty good individually, their chemistry never feels quite right…there’s always something slightly forced about their interactions (by contrast, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy slip into their roles effortlessly). And, though it can be chalked up to the era, The Clock is worlds more melodramatic, with a heavy score and instantaneous marriage wishes. There’s plenty to admire, though: the emotional bond between an awed small-town soldier and a tired-of-her-life city girl rings true,  and several sequences, such as Joe stroking Alice’s hair on Al’s milkman bus, are reminiscent of Before Sunrise‘s most sublime moments. The manner in which he discovers, and she rediscovers, New York City is quite beautiful. Minnelli’s direction isn’t invisible like Linklater’s, but he does take a step back and allow Walker and Garland to tote most of the load. Even if the duo isn’t up to the task in full, it’s the right decision: too much directorial interjection would have sapped any magic The Clock possesses away.

65/100