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What if you were asked to investigate a murder in which you were the prime suspect? From this seemingly impossible notion comes a grandly entertaining nail-biter. Charles Laughton plays the punctuality obsessed, slave-driving head of a publishing empire who won't let his crime magazine's star editor (Ray Milland) take a day off to spend with his family. The overworked Milland, having just upset a delayed honeymoon trip for the umpteenth time, goes on a sorrow-drowning, bar-hopping bender with a mysterious woman who, it turns out, is Laughton's mistress. Later that night after Milland has gone home, Laughton murders her, and the next day he assigns Milland to investigate, since a number of clues point to her having spent time with another man that night. Milland, then, must not only find the real murderer but sidetrack the investigation away from himself. That both characters are solving the crime in tandem yet unwittingly working toward pinning the murder on each other is at the heart of The Big Clock's labyrinthine brilliance. Helping bring out the dark humor in this adaptation of Kenneth Fearing's noir novel (included in the Library of America's Crime Novels collection) is Elsa Lanchester as a high-strung painter who can sketch the prime suspect (Milland), a time-bomb plot device that only adds to the already unbearable suspense. This is a taut, lean thriller, superbly handled by director John Farrow, who never fails to remind his audience through repeated use of clocks, timepieces, and watches that all too often in our lives that ticking sound is the enemy.

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MC25501 Big Clock DVD (1948/Ray Milland/Charles Laughton) $14.98