A soldier, Joe Allen (Robert Walker), on a 48-hour leave, meets Alice Mayberry (Judy Garland) in Pennsylvania Station when she trips over his foot and breaks the heel off one of her shoes.
Although it is Sunday, Joe gets a shoe-repair shop owner to open his store, and repair her shoe. Alice asks Joe where he is going, and he says he is on leave but has no definite destination while in New York. He asks to accompany her on her way home and she points out landmarks along the way, including Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
When he asks her whether she is busy that evening, she says that she is. However, when he persists, chasing the bus she is riding down the street, she relents, promising to meet him under the clock at the Astor Hotel.
Although her roommate chastises Alice for "picking up" a soldier, Alice keeps her date with Joe, arriving late, and the two have dinner. Having missed the last bus home, they accept a ride with a milk man. When the milkman's truck has a flat tire, he and his passengers visit a lunch room to call for assistance. A drunk strikes the milk man, blackening his eye, and after the company's road repairman has changed the truck's tire, Alice and Joe spend the night delivering milk to their benefactor's customers. Later, they enjoy the hospitality of the milkman and his wife, who serves them an early-morning dinner.
After they become separated in a subway crowd, they try frantically to find one another, not even knowing each other's last name. They finally reunite by returning to the place at which they met for the first time, the escalator at Penn Station. Having fallen in love, Joe asks Alice to marry him before his departure the next day, and she consents. However, they must run a maze of red tape which nearly prevents them from doing so. Through their perseverance, they win over bureaucrats upon whom their success or failure depends. However, Alice finds the hurried ceremony "ugly" and it is only after they repeat their vows alone in a church pew that she feels truly married. Shortly after the young couple weds, Joe's leave ends and he returns to war.Judy Garland as Alice Maybery
Robert Walker as Corporal Joe Allen
James Gleason as Al Henry
Keenan Wynn as The Drunk
Marshall Thompson as Bill
Lucile Gleason as Mrs. Al Henry
Ruth Brady as Helen
Garland had asked MGM to star in a straight dramatic role, wanting a break from the strenuous schedules of musical films. Although the studio was hesitant, the producer, Arthur Freed, eventually approached Garland with the script for The Clock after buying the rights to the short unpublished story by Paula and Paul Gallico.
Fred Zinnemann was initially hired to direct the picture. After about a month, he was removed at the request of Garland as there was a lack of chemistry between the two and early footage was disappointing. When Freed asked who Garland wanted to direct the film, she requested Vincente Minnelli whom had just directed Garland the previous year in Meet Me in St. Louis, which was a tremendous success. Moreover, she and Minnelli had become romantically involved during the principal photography of Meet Me In St. Louis. During production of The Clock, they rekindled their romance, and were engaged by the end of shooting. Minnelli discarded most of the footage shot by Zinnemann and reshaped the film. He revised some scenes, tightened up the script, and incorporated New York City into the film's setting as a third character. As with Meet Me in St. Louis, he supervised adjustments to Garland's costumes, make-up, and hair.
Both producer Arthur Freed and Roger Edens have a cameo in this film. Near the beginning, Freed lights Walker's cigarette and then gives him the lighter. Edens, a music arranger and close friend to Garland, plays piano in a restaurant. Screenwriter Robert Nathan appears uncredited smoking a pipe.
Both stars of The Clock were plagued by personal problems that continued throughout their lives. During filming, Garland became increasingly addicted to prescription drugs given by the studio to control her weight and pep her up. Just prior to filming The Clock, Walker learned his wife, Jennifer Jones, was having an affair with film producer David O. Selznick and wanted a divorce. Walker began to spiral downward. During filming, Garland would often find him drunk in a Los Angeles bar and then sober him up throughout the night so he could appear before cameras the next day.
According to Robert Osborne in his introduction of this film on Turner Classic Movies, because World War II had not yet ended, filming on location was not considered cost effective or easy. Though the film was shot entirely on the MGM lot in Culver City, Minnelli managed to make New York City believable, even duplicating Penn Station at a reported cost of $66,000.
In the film, the titular timepiece is located in the famous Hotel Astor, Times Square, which was once located at 1515 Broadway. Built in the Beaux Arts style in 1904, the Astor was demolished in 1967 and replaced by One Astor Plaza, a tall office-tower structure.
When Joe and Alice are accidentally separated, they find each other again at Pennsylvania Station near the information desk. Another clock is depicted hanging there, closely resembling the one prominently displayed in Grand Central Station.
Many audiences who were disappointed to find that Garland did not sing in the picture, were nevertheless impressed by her performance. It would be sixteen years, however, before she would make another dramatic film, 1961's Judgment at Nuremberg.
Released on May 25, 1945, The Clock made a respectable profit but it was not as successful as Meet Me in St. Louis, released the previous year. Because World War II was ending, The Clock's story was not a popular choice among film-goers who wanted to put the war behind them. The movie was well received by critics who favorably noted Garland's transformation into a mature actress.
The New York Times ; "A tender and refreshingly simple romantic drama. The atmosphere of the big town has seldom been conveyed more realistically upon the screen [-] the kind of picture that leaves one with a warm feeling toward his fellow man, especially towards the young folks who today are trying to crowd a lifetime of happiness into a few fleeting hours."
The New York Daily News ; "The sweetest, most tender comedy-drama yet produced about a soldier and a girl. Judy Garland and Robert Walker are perfectly cast as the modest, sincere girl and the shy, sincere boy."
2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
According to MGM records the film earned $2,173,000 in the US and Canada and $610,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $217,000 - far less profitable than Garland's recent musicals but still a respectable showing.
Released on VHS in the early 1990s, the film went out of print for several years until a limited colorized version of the film was released. Warner Home Video then released it on DVD in February 2007.