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Crack in the World (DVD Review)

26 Jul, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 7/27/10
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Dana Andrews, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Alexander Knox.

The kind of movies for which 1960s drive-ins were invented, this dramatically lukewarm but thematically scorching sci-fi melodrama is of interest for its environmental topicality and for its status as one of the “launch” titles in a welcome new line of Paramount oldies now being distributed by Olive Films. As any cursory dabbler in movie-related chat rooms knows, Paramount stands alone when it comes to showing disdain for the library titles it owns, but at least the corporate suits have allowed certain titles to be farmed out to Criterion, Legend Films and now Olive. Bravo.

This said, no one broke too many sweats remastering this World print — though because Paramount’s Technicolor films were in my opinion the most vibrant of any studio’s from the mid-1930s through the end of the 1960s, even a dash-off job like this has a certain visual distinction. In other words, female lead Janette Scott’s tan against blonde hair will do — though it might do better at a $15 or $20 list price.

Scott is around because every apocalyptic drama has to have an attractive woman scientist — and also perhaps because the actress had done more than respectably a couple years earlier amid meteorite mayhem in 1963’s The Day of the Triffids for the same production company (Security Pictures). This time, the peril is encroaching heat from the Earth’s core — which is intended to solve the world’s energy needs but is instead engendering earthquakes and causing animal populations to run for the hills, or at least cooler temperatures.

Scott is married to scientific project honcho Dana Andrews, and the script doesn’t hide the fact that he’s notably older. Almost from the beginning, we see that he’s afflicted with some sort of progressive cancer, a situation that seems to be setting up Scott romantically with Andrews’ second-in-command (Kieron Moore). The two men disagree: Andrews wants to use a nuclear device to punch a hole in the earth’s core to release the energy, while Moore asserts it will lead to the holocaust that eventually occurs. So for Andrews, this becomes one of those situations where impending death begins to look like a good career move.

The early going here isn’t without middling interest, but it’s just pokey enough to let your mind wander to questions of how the heavy-lifters on this scientific staff got all those beds, desks, lamps, file cabinets, electrical connections, food and even Scott’s negligee to project headquarters two miles down. Or how Moore manages to be so buff and strapping when there’s likely no Vic Tanny’s or any other era gym upstairs in the desert.

The workmanlike direction is by Andrew Marton, who is probably best known for co-directing 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines and the only bad movie Grace Kelly ever made (Green Fire) — plus the American exterior episodes in The Longest Day and the chariot race in Ben-Hur (this one presumably enough to dine out on for years). William Wyler is among my favorite directors ever, but it’s tough to see how he could have ever won the directorial Oscar (or Ben-Hur best picture) were it not for a scene he ironically didn’t stage. So not unpredictably, the best scenes here deals not with characterizations but with what happens when matters get ecologically crazy in the movie’s climax. 

Of course, compared to Ben-Hur, the cinematic intentions here are modest, and drive-in patrons wouldn’t have been robbed of any significant life experience by simply ignoring the movie and climbing into the backseat with some significant other. But the picture is just intelligent enough and competent enough to have made coming up for air a not unreasonable choice as well.

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