It's pretty incredible that I, at age 57, can vividly recall one-half of the soundtrack music (it helps that it is ponderously repetitious) to a movie I saw only once in a movie theater on Yokota Air Force Base, Japan, 45 years ago. That movie is Crack in the World, filmed in Spain, released by Security Pictures, and just recently made available on DVD by Olive Pictures (no Criterion Collection treatment here). My recall of so much of the music composed by John Douglas, who also scored Psycho-Circus and Bikini Paradise, says less about my remarkable memory (I am abnormally oblivious to most ordinary sensory perceptions and quick to forget what I do in fact take in) than about the impact this mid-1960s disaster movie had on my impressionable 12-year-old mind.
The movie is about a mad scientist, but suavely mad, as played by Dana Andrews, who has penetration issues. He's apparently dying of hand cancer, and as the story starts he is in Tanganyika trying to cut a chasm to the earth's core in order to retrieve enough natural energy to fill the world's escalating energy needs for the "foreseeable future"-- not exactly what the good folks at Exxon and BP would call "long term." Andrews has been married for just a year to Janette Scott, almost 30 years younger than he and a scientist in her "own right." They met at the university, where she took him for Thermodynamics. She wants a baby ... now. Andrews kids her about the fact that she's married to a very busy old man and raises the specter of her former lover, tall and studly Kieron Moore. She responds, deadpan,
Stephen, for the umpteenth time, Ted Rampion is not my pin-up. He's young, brilliant, dances divinely, and plays very good tennis, but he isn't the one I picked. I picked you. You're my husband.(Yes, Janette Scott speaks in occasional italics.)
That Andrews' scientific efforts to drill a well to the earth's magma are largely symbolic on a psycho-sexual level is confirmed (for me) when the scientist demonstrates to a skeptical board of commissioners that a thermonuclear missile, aimed straight down the deep shaft Andrews and crew have already dug, would not shatter the protective volcanic crust, but rather burn neatly through it. To demonstrate, Andrews lifts a ten-inch metal rod, white hot and aflame, and plunges it forcefully through plate glass. Janette Scott's reaction shot at this point is instructive.
Through frequent self-treatment with x-radiation, Andrews has severely burned both his hands. Scott thinks the inflammation is a bad rash and suggests a vacation: "It's tension, it's psychosomatic," she coos understandingly. This scene is played out in a bedroom, tastefully decorated with shelves of backlit igneous rocks and other geological specimens, where the couple sleep in separate twin beds. Quite clearly this is a marriage already on the rocks.
This scene immediately precedes Kieron Moore's entrance--in a helicopter, from which he strides with manly confidence towards the camera. This guy has played Count Vronsky and one of the 300 Spartans, so you figure "virile, handsome leading man" is not a challenge for this suntanned, brawny Irish actor, though years later he did play a guy named Chief Dull Knife in Custer of the West.
Moore and Andrews disagree over how safely a thermonuclear weapon can be used to tap the planet for lava and its boundless uses for technology. Moore is of course right ... more to the point, he is right for Janette Scott, who intrudes on Moore's outraged you-are-playing-God resignation speech. Forget for a moment that Moore unwisely has a photo of himself shirtless embracing his boss's wife on the beach, pinned inside his closet door. Forget for a moment that Scott brazenly enters Moore's private quarters and offers to darn his worn-out socks: "If the world is going to come to an end, at least you won't get caught with holes in your socks." They are only doing what they have to do. And the smoky theme music lets us know that these two belong with each other.
Not that music and sex were at the top of my mind at age twelve. There were other things to like about this B-movie. That it's set in Africa, for instance--continent where I was born (but to the north, in Libya), and home of Tarzan and Bomba, my pin-ups since age eight. Also, the special effects, cheesy by today's standards, were not half bad by 1965 (pre-2001, pre-Star Wars, pre-Blade Runner, pre-Avatar) standards.
Andrews' initial success with the rocket is quickly followed by disaster--pay attention, people, the movie is called Crack in the World! What most impressed me back then was a scene in which a train is derailed by the crack and plunges into a ravine--a special effect surpassed in a similar train-wreck scene--tellingly, more for thrills than for a sense of human tragedy--in 2008's Wanted. And when I watched the movie again today, I was struck by how precisely I had remembered it--even down to the briefly glimpsed panicked passengers' faces. (How memory works--and fails to work--is a topic that has intrigued me ... um, as far back as I can remember.)
No, this movie is no great work of art--even by pre-2001 sci-fi standards. But it's an interesting movie to watch if you're willing to read between the lines or, if like me, it reverberates as a particular memory from your past. It's interesting to watch Dana Andrews deteriorate--as his downward-turning warhead unsurprisingly destroys the planet. Soon after all hell breaks loose, we find him wheelchair-bound, in dark glasses, with both hands bandaged in his lap, a sort of impotent Doctor Strangelove figure. A kid who devoured movies like When World Collide on TV and then as a middle-aged kid rushing to see 2010 just last year, I have a fascination with cinematic apocalypse. That most of this movie's imagery is taken from stock footage--animal stampedes, cities ravaged by earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions--takes little away from my ability to have fun with it.