Malcolm St. Clair’s pre-World War II espionage film Crack-Up is a B-movie with some cracking good actors on board and a story that, with German spies in the mix, has more resonance in retrospect than it probably had at the time of its first release in 1936. The story doesn’t go far enough with feelings and sentiments, and the denouement is an irritating throwaway that should have been rethought and replotted, but the film is undeniably entertaining in its small, simple way, and it features Peter Lorre in an early American film role after scoring so forcefully in Hitchcock’s first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much in England.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmaray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 06/03/2014
American hero pilot Ace Martin (Brian Donlevy) is hiding a bitter secret: he had the patent for the construction of some revolutionary bombers stolen right from under him by Alfred Knuxton (Oscar Apfel) and his aviation corporation, and using his worshipful mechanic Joe Randall (Thomas Beck), he plans to get them back and sell them to the highest bidder. That happens to be a German spy hiding in plain sight at the airfield as a simpleminded vagrant who calls himself Colonel Gimpy (Peter Lorre). At the moment of truth, Martin takes the money but isn’t forthcoming with the plans and with the first New York-Berlin flight scheduled to commence with airplane builder (Ralph Morgan) on board, this affords Ace the best possible escape from prosecution, but unknown to all, the Colonel has sneaked on board and has his own nefarious agenda to get what he paid for and escape with the plans to his fatherland.
The Production Rating: 3/5
Charles Kenyon and Sam Mintz’s script (from a story by John Goodrich) is too simplistic for comfort (Joe is too naïve, and his girl friend Ruth – Helen Wood – arranges for Joe’s part in the theft to be forgiven if he can return with the plans: kind of ridiculous), and that ending where with a lifeboat coming very soon but only one life preserver left for the four survivors of the crash (the “crack-up” of the title), three volunteer to go down with the ship (haven’t they ever heard of treading water or floating on their backs? The rescue boat is only a few hundred yards away) is really in need of rewriting and rethinking (the reason given for one of the hopeless men to give up his life is completely infuriating). Still, even with those obvious weaknesses, there are some highlights. The unmasking of Lorre’s Colonel from his persona as a halfwit to that of a strong, focused man of determination is a surprise and one of the delights of the film. So, too, is a nicely directed action sequence where Ace has to take a dangerous walk on the wing during the flight to replace a gas cap which has come loose. Obviously Fox didn’t spend much money on this programmer: the model work with the airplane Wild Goose is not especially felicitous.
Peter Lorre gets top billing, and he does make the most of his dual identity part as the half-witted Colonel and the bloodthirsty Baron, but Brian Donlevy actually does the best job in the film as the handsome, admired pilot hiding bitterness and betrayal with a mask of joviality, and those assertive qualities he possesses here will get even greater play in the years to come. Ralph Morgan doesn’t quite milk the melodramatic most from his role of the rich man who seemingly has everything but the one thing he truly wants, but he does well enough. Thomas Beck and Helen Wood make a sappy pair of lovers in one-dimensional roles. Excellent in a smaller role is another spy who decides to go into business for himself played by J. Carrol Naish in one of his standout performances from early in his career.
The film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio is rendered here in a better than average transfer that features surprisingly good sharpness for most of the movie, and a grayscale that offers okay black levels and very good whites. There are certainly age-related artifacts like dust specks and debris (they get heavier when the reel change markers make their appearances), but this is one of the better transfers from a film of the 1930s in this archive series. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so this film has 8 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Dialogue has been well recorded and is reproduced nicely with no interference from the film’s sound effects. The very sparse music score by Samuel Kaylin and the song “Drink” by Gene Rose and Sidney Claire that interrupts the action also in no way compromises the viewer’s ability to understand what’s being said. Age-related problems like hiss, crackle, and pops are present but not in abundance. However, the extreme volume level at which the disc has been encoded may prove difficult if the user’s equipment isn’t adjusted ahead of time.
Audio Rating: 3/5
There are no bonus materials on this made-on-demand disc.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
Crack-Up is an entertaining little B-movie with effective early performances from future well known character actors like Peter Lorre, Brian Donlevy, and J. Carrol Naish, and its inclusion in the Fox Cinema Archive program is a welcome one.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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