Skip to main content

Tell her my socks are okay. Somebody darned them.

Crack in the World
(1965)

(SPOILERS) Inconceivably, Time Out’s review of Crack in the World attempted to convince the wayward viewer that it was “Infinitely better than the appalling The Day the Earth Caught Fire”. There can be no doubt David Pirie was smoking something potently bamboozling when he came up with that deranged view. Which is not to suggest that Crack in the World is bad per se – as a nipper it had me fretting like nobody’s business over its depicted eventuality – but that The Day the Earth Caught Fire is a bona fide, sweaty mood-piece masterpiece.

There are undoubted conceptual similarities between the two films – even more so between Crack in the World and 1970 Doctor Who classic Inferno (well, aside from the fascistic parallel Earth and hairy ape men devolved by the green slime sluicing up from the depths). In both The Day the Earth Caught Fire and Crack in the World, the Earth is set on the path of assured destruction due to experimental use of nuclear weapons… and in both, the only solution to this fix anyone can come up with is setting off more nukes!

As such, both do their dutiful bit to bolster the relentless bogeyman that is nuclear dread, possibly the best fear experiment ever created (well, until invisible germs began attacking us from every quarter, anyway). If the Cuban Missile Crisis in the real world and Dr. Strangelove in the Oscar-feted one commanded most of the attention, Crack in the World was aiming squarely at the unadulterated, beckoning pulp apocalypse; when I first saw it, a good decade and a half after it was first released and in the realist era of The China Syndrome and Silkwood, it still had a profound effect.

And that’s in spite of a fairly ho-hum plotting, direction, characterisation and performances. Director Andrew Marton does an entirely serviceable job, ensuring he gets the best results from a limited budget (Marton was best known as a second unit director of the likes of Ben Hur and Kelly’s Heroes, but he made a popular version of King Solomon’s Mines (1950) with Stewart Granger and was one of a roster of directors on both Seven Wonders of the World (1956) and The Longest Day (1962)). The effects are generally quite capable, whilst calling upon some inevitable stock footage. Writer John Manchip White (co-credited with Julian Zimet) had also worked on The Day of the Triffids and penned early Avengers episode Propellant 23. His decision to create a love triangle at the heart of the picture isn’t perhaps the most original, but I can’t help think it would have played better with more sympathetic casting.

Dana Andrews was well past his 1940s heyday by this point, settling into supporting roles. Here, he’s Dr Stephen Sorendson, the jealous husband of Maggie (Janette Scott, also of The Day of the Triffids – the common link being producer Bernard Glasser – and the sweetly pretty object of Terry-Thomas and Ian Carmichael’s competing attentions in School for Scoundrels). He’s solid if stolid. Andrews could fit quite smoothly into the Leslie Nielsen role in a disaster movie spoof and the manner in which his – unnamed – cancer debilitates him over the course of the couple of the days depicted in the movie, from diagnosis to a bandaged hand, to bandaged hands and sunglasses and then a pair of white gloves, is unintentionally funny. You half expect him to start laughing maniacally at any moment. Professor Sorensen - the same name, give or take a vowel, as a mad scientist meddling with nature in another Doctor Who story ten years later, The Planet of Evil – is as unswerving in his dedication to his drill project as Professor Stahlman in Inferno. Both scientists are convinced there’s untapped energy to be found beneath the Earth’s crust, and both end up wearing gloves to conceal their deleterious conditions.

Both also have to deal with the strenuous objections of a junior who thinks no good can come of all this. Keiron Moore is definitely a weak link as Doctor Ted Rampion. He has developed the Rampion Theory, “that the crust has already been cracked by the numerous atomic explosions set off by the nuclear powers in their years of testing” (bafflingly, Sorensen then proceeds to “disprove” the theory by scaring his audience of peers – those who will approve his use of a nuclear warhead in the drill hole – silly, smashing a piece of reinforced glass with a hammer. More bafflingly, after that shock, his red-hot knife through butter seems to convince the witless group). Moore – also in The Day of the Triffids, as Scott’s husband, no less – isn’t really much as an actor, but he only has to look desperate here and there and woo Scott, so he doesn’t exactly flounder. You’re never really rooting for him either, though.

And you should be, as rotter Sorensen made sure Ted was out of the way on a professorship in Tokyo so he could steal Maggie away. It’s not as if Stephen and Maggie have any sex life by the look of it either, so it’s all about the getting and brooding over it with him. Inevitably, all this torridness gives way to Maggie ending up with her real love – she even darns his socks; no really – while Sorenson remains at Project Inner Space (centre D’Energe Intra Terrestre) to record the final events, whatever they may be.

Ted: Where the land masses split, the oceans will be sucked in and the colossal pressure generated by the steam will rip the Earth apart and destroy it.

It all sounds exceedingly grim; there are some nice false dawns in the movie, such as the initial explosion doing nothing adverse. Even Ted is convinced it has been a success. But then the escalation begins, with earthquakes and tidal waves signalling “mass destruction on an apocalyptic scale!” When liquid hot magma starts geysering up, there are facile cries of “Hooray!” Once the extent of the situation is understood, it’s Ted who comes up with the nuke answer (“How do you start up a volcano? With a nuclear bomb.” I mean, yeah, Why not?)

An effective sequence follows in which Ted descends into the volcano (although, at one point he appears to start coughing when enveloped in gas/steam despite wearing a pressure suit). It looks as if this gambit has been a success, but oh no, the titular crack doubles back: “The crack is moving twice as fast as before”. There are two fissures now, resulting in a huge chunk of the planet – globe model, I assume – being thrown into space. Barkingly – unless you’re Rudolf Steiner – this chunk proceeds to become the Earth’s second moon. Hooray!

I’m not entirely sure I thought the Earth was definitively saved on first viewing – I certainly prefer The Day the Earth Caught Fire’s ambiguous “maybe” – perhaps because of that hellish red filter splashed across the churning events. These days, Roland Emmerich would add considerable spin but probably not much more conviction to the dramatic beats. He has, after all, gone to similar places with The Day after Tomorrow and 2012. Disaster porn has been cinema’s bread and butter since DW Griffith (Noah). Emmerich’s skill was making these movies move; the problem with most of the 1970s disaster genre was that they just tended to sit there. Crack in the World is better than most, but it doesn’t move a lot, and it doesn’t have the edge in plot development or character to take up the slack.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef