One way or another time often plays a crucial role in great movies. Many emphasize the passing of time to create a feeling of suspense or pathos. Others control your perception of events by manipulating time using flashbacks or glimpses of the future. Most at some point rely on your suspension of disbelief in relation to incidents of perfect timing and incredible coincidence. As a visual embodiment of these effects many great movies include a prominent timepiece, which often becomes the iconic image of the film.
Back to the Future
Never was the concept of time more crucial to a plot than in Back to the Future. The entire movie revolves around the paradox of time travel and the necessity for good timing. The clock in the town square is a recurring image in the film and the suspenseful climax of the action has Doc Brown at the clock trying desperately to be ready in time to harness a lightning bolt to power his DeLorean back to the future. A time traveler battling against time in the shadow of a clock, genius! Sadly the clock in the film is not a real one but is on a set at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
This silent classic sees Harold Lloyd climbing a tower block and hanging from the hands of a clock on the side of the building with his legs memorably dangling over the New York Streets. Lloyd performed the stunt himself and it became one of the most iconic scenes in movie history. Echoes of this brilliant stunt are seen in many films including the aforementioned Back to the Future and the 1978 Spy movie The 39 Steps.
The 39 Steps
This spy thriller revolved around a race against time as Richard Hannay desperately tries to unravel the mystery of a plot by Prussian agents to blow up the Greek Prime Minister who is visiting Parliament. Hannay discovers that the bomb will be triggered by Big Ben and ultimately has to stop the hands of the clock himself.
In the heart wrenching finale of this tale of love denied, housewife Laura Jesson is parted from Alec Harvey after the couple finally realize that their fledgling romance is not to be. The separation takes place at the fictional Milford railway station and the platform clock features prominently in the scene. The movie was shot at Carnforth station in Lancashire and the memorable clock was the real station timepiece. Sadly it was removed from the station in the 1970’s but when its place in movie history was recognized it was found, restored and replaced in its rightful position for all to see.
Dr No introduced James Bond to the movie going public. Bond is a master of perfect timing and finding solutions to seemingly insoluble conundrums. How fitting, then, that a watch should so often play an important role in his amazing escapes. Bond has become synonymous with fine watches containing clever gadgetry but in the first movie his watch was just a watch. The first timepiece kept faith with the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as it was a Rolex but it came from a surprising source. The budget for the movie was tight and Rolex refused to lend a watch for the film so producer Cubby Broccoli used his own.
We are always aware of the ticking clock that is time in the great movies that we watch. We are swept into the urgency of the situations unfolding and the emotional predicaments of the characters. It is not real time we are watching, it is condensed and manipulated and yet so believable that we can never take our eyes off the clock on the screen. Perhaps that is why it is the image of the timepiece that always stays with us.
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Sally S writes for a number of blogs and on a diverse range of subjects including music, movies and travel. Sally’s own favorite timepieces are in the ladies Fossil ceramic watch series and high end Tissot watches.