Thursday, May 29, 2014

There's a Crack...in the World!

"Slow in takeoff and inclined to over-clinical scientific exposition, (the) action gradually hits its stride when the experiment backfires and results in giant earthquakes, tidal waves and general destruction of the world."

That was Variety's assessment of Crack in the World when it was released in 1965. I pretty much agree, although time has been kind to this well-made, modestly-budgeted science fiction film. In retrospect, it is one of the better sci fi efforts of the 1960s, though certainly not in the same category as the somewhat similar The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

Dana Andrews as Dr. Sorenson.
Dana Andrews stars as Dr. Stephen Sorenson, a dedicated scientist who hopes to create "limitless, clean heat" by drilling to the magma at the Earth's core. Unfortunately, after drilling down two miles, his team hits a portion of the Earth's crust that can't be penetrated by mechanical means. Sorenson's solution is to use a thermonuclear device to punch through that final layer.

His colleague, Ted Rampion (Kieron Moore), adamantly opposes that plan, claiming the explosion will trigger ruptures in existing fissures created by previous nuclear tests. Sorenson ignores Rampion's warnings and, after securing permission by a government commission, he detonates the atomic bomb. Without minutes, an earthquake creates a crack in the Earth's crust that travels along a fault line at 3 miles per hour--threatening to literally cut the Earth in half.

Rampion (Kieran Moore) in the volcano.
Except for occasional stock footage,which is ill-matched for the most part, there's a dearth of disaster scenes in Crack in the World until the fiery climax. Still, veteran director Andrew Marton (King Solomon's Mines) mounts two impressive sequences in the film's final half-hour. The first one generates effective tension as Rampion emplaces another thermonuclear device into a live volcano, hoping to create a hole big enough to stop the crack. Marton's other highlight is an action sequence with Rampion and Sorenson's wife (Janette Scott) racing to higher ground to avoid crashing boulders and streams of steaming lava.

The film's human elements don't work as well. The terminally-ill Sorenson pushes away his younger wife--right into the arms of her former lover Rampion. If it was because he was concerned about her future happiness, he might come across as sympathetic. As it is, Sorenson remains an egotistical genius ("I have an opportunity to turn the pages of history"), who becomes consumed by guilt after his actions result in thousands of lost lives.

Janette Scott as a blonde.
Except for Andrews as Sorenson, the cast is saddled with stereotypical characters. That said, Kieran is fine as the stalwart Rampion--part scientist and part action hero. Sadly, the lovely Janette Scott is wasted in the thankless role of Maggie Sorenson. It's a sharp contrast to the resourceful heroine she played in Day of the Triffids.

Shot in Spain, Crack in the World looks more expensive than its budget. Much of that credit belongs to Eugène Lourié, who received credits for both art direction and special effects. Born in France, Lourié first gained fame as an art director working with Jean Renoir on classics such as Grand Illusion (1937). He moved to America during World War II and worked on films ranging from the The House of Fear (with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes) to Charles Chaplin's Limelight. Lourié also directed occasionally, with his best work being another above-average 1960s sci fi film Gorgo.

5 comments:

The Metzinger Sisters said...

Ah yes, Crack in the World...it's been awhile since I've seen this flick but I do remember enjoying it ( even though Andrews does play a heel ). I actually thought it was better than The Day the Earth Caught Fire. An entertaining post Rick, and reading it reminds me of another great 60s film with Andrews - The Satan Bug. I'll have to take a look and see if you covered a review of that film.

toto2 said...

This is an interesting post about a much lesser known sci if work. Like you, I thought Janette Scott's character was under utilized. I was intrigued with the premise although it is hard to believe Andrews' character would have been given a green light for an idea that was not well thought out. The effects are well done, though. I prefer "The Day the Earth Caught Fire" and was glad to see you reference it.

Caftan Woman said...

End of the world scenarios freak me out, but I can't turn away.

Tom said...

Excellent review...far better than mine.

Unknown said...

hhhhhhh