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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Crack In the World (1965) review


Dana Andrews (Dr. Stephen Sorenson), Janette Scott (Dr. Maggie Sorenson), Kieron Moore (Dr. Ted Rampion), Alexander Knox (Sir Charles Eggerston)

Directed by Andrew Marton

"...Where the land mass is split, the oceans will be sucked in...and the colossal pressure generated by the steam will rip the Earth apart...and destroy it."

The Short Version: Riveting and thoroughly enjoyable sci fi disaster picture that shares far more in common with the extravagance of George Pal than the chintziness of Irwin Allen. This sadly obscure TV mainstay from the UK is a perfect matinee popcorn picture that delivers a grandly epic storyline even if the science is more fiction now than fact. The script and performances are too good to levy too much complaint on scientific accuracy from a film of this vintage. If geophysics aren't your specialty, then it won't matter, anyway, just sit back and enjoy the show.

A scientific lab located in Africa two miles below the Earth's surface discover a vast mass of magma, which can be used as a new source of energy that could provide an unlimited supply for the planets population. The problem is reaching it. A solution is suggested that using an atomic missile can successfully penetrate this last and relatively thin, but troublesome layer of the Earth's crust with minimal danger in order to harness this new found energy source. The plan works, but after numerous earthquakes and other disasters are recorded along the Macedo Trench, it's learned that the detonation of this warhead has caused a crack in the world that threatens to split the planet in two.

Combining the producer of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962) and the director of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and GORGO (1961) doing the special effects (and art direction), this hugely entertaining apocalyptic tale of the world literally cracking open is an enormous amount of fun for fans of pseudo scientific "End of the World" scenarios. This British production is seldom talked about, but did get a lot of weekend airplay back in the 80s and while there are no monsters or aliens from outer space, the filmmakers keep the suspense and harrowing moments erupting at regular intervals.

Watching these early disaster movies (including this one) such as Pal's WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951) or even Ishiro Honda's GORATH (1962), the template remained largely the same till Irwin Allen made the films fashionable for a brief time before turning the sub genre into an enormous punchline by the end of the 1970s. History repeated itself in the late 1990s and 2000s when this style of film reared its calamitous head once more, only this time spearheaded by Michael Bay, who one would figure worshipped at the Temple of Allen. Even with the newer pictures technological marvels, these antiquated productions have a bit more heart and creativity surrounding them in addition to performances that make the audience feel something for the plight of the people onscreen.

There's an intriguing love triangle here between the characters played by Andrews, Scott and Moore. Dr. Sorenson (Andrews) is confident of the atomic detonator plan, but this is adamantly denied by another scientist, Dr. Rampion, whose wife left him for the considerably older inner Earth researcher. Rampion figures that by setting off a nuclear explosion that far beneath the Earth's crust will weaken fault lines thereby setting off a series of disasters leading to the total destruction of the planet. Of course, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to come up with an idea of how things will end up for civilization as well as our three main participants.

If you enjoyed Andrews and Scott in the quaint demonic horror of NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), they conjure an entirely different, but no less engaging image here. The script does wonders with these three characters, reaching its peak once the missile test has been found to be a failure. Sorenson feels anger and solemnity that thousands have died for his mistake, although he tries to downplay the tragedy by noting more died in the Hiroshima/ Nagasaki disaster. He also draws a conclusion about his wife leaving him to go back to Rampion. As opposed to so many of these movies, the drama isn't submerged amongst the surrounding catastrophes, but resulting from an individuals own personal tribulations and personal issues.

For a film bearing such a title as this, one expects some spectacle and CRACK IN THE WORLD delivers that in abundance. The effects are Earth shattering in scope and hold up remarkably well for a film of this vintage. There are a few sequences that hold their own with any other similar pictures, old or new. One involves the lowering of a nuclear bomb below the surface of the Earth to offset the pressure from the previous atomic missile having struck a hydrogen pocket which is believed to be the reason the first test cracked the Earth's crust--the explosion being greater than anticipated. Rampion and Sorenson decide the best way to head the crack off at the pass is to create a similar explosion on the volcanic island of Tukamoa so when it erupts, the oncoming crack will be stopped dead in its tracks. This plan works, but unfortunately, the crack has changed course and doubled back for the coast moving faster than it was before.

From there it's one tense moment after another--our heroes desperately try to stop a train full of panicking people attempting to escape the calamity oblivious that they're heading right for the crack. Rampion and Maggie try to halt the train before it's toppled from the impending destruction caused by the rupturing Earth. When that fails, the crack ends up back where the project began with the two miles deep research center in its path. Both Maggie and Rampion attempt to rescue Sorenson, but he refuses to leave, deciding instead to remain below to record the resulting aftermath. All bets are off during this fiery, magma spewing finale where we see the planet nearly splitting in half(!) as twenty thousand square miles of Earth explode in a fiery mass of magma hurtling skyward in the form of a new moon.

CRACK IN THE WORLD delivers on its title and the special effects by 'man with many talents', Eugene Lourie are fantastic in their scope and execution. They would surely make Eiji Tsuburaya proud. The magnificent score by John Douglas is appropriately rousing in all the right places. This old style scientific planetary genocide was well ahead of its time, but has since went on to become fanciful and ambitious science fiction that's a great deal of fun and well worth tracking down for cataclysm completists. If you're a fan of Pal's visions or even the boisterously tacky productions of Allen, there's a crack in your DVD collection where this DVD should find a place on the shelf.

This review is representative of the Olive Films DVD


Pat Powers said...

Now THIS is my kinda crack! I enjoyed this film when I saw it in a video store a decade or so ago. Had a fifties kind of feel to it.

That said, let's have some big-hair/bare-breasted sword and sorcery stuff from the 70s and 80s! That's my fave kind of cool-ass cinema.

venoms5 said...

Hi Pat. I've got some sword and sandal stuff in the works again, but since you mention it, I should toss in some sword and sorcery stuff, too, actually!

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