Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Crack-Up (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

CRACK-UP (1946) is an interesting, if not wholly successful, RKO film noir with a terrific cast. It's available from the Warner Archive.

The movie begins with art critic George Steele (Pat O'Brien), who's seemingly drunk or has lost his mind, breaking into a museum. Steele says he's just been in a terrible train wreck. But when Detective Cochrane (Wallace Ford) investigates, he learns there were no train wrecks, that night or any time recently.

At the suggestion of the somewhat mysterious Traybin (Herbert Marshall), Cochrane lets George go home in the custody of his girlfriend, Terry (Claire Trevor). George, unsure who to trust, begins to piece together what happened, including re-enacting his fateful train trip. Gradually he realizes he's become the target of someone forging great works of art...

This movie is another in a seemingly endless string of mid '40s "psychological noir." I was amused that there's even an argument about Dali-esque modern art, given the role Dali played in the previous year's Hitchcock film, SPELLBOUND (1945). Links to reviews of a few other psychological noir films may be found at the SPELLBOUND link.

For those of us who love "train movies," CRACK-UP checks off that box as well, and the train sequences are as good as the best of Hitchcock or Lang, calling to mind films like Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1945). The foreboding atmosphere in each of these scenes is outstanding.

The film also has some smart dialogue. Knowing someone's been killed and wary of what Terry's role in the mess might be, George asks her what her racket is, and she snarkily retorts "I'm outta my head. I drive around in cars picking up psychopathic killers." Trevor doesn't have a lot to do in the film but be supportive, but when she lets fly with dialogue like that you're glad she's around to liven things up.

This 93-minute film loses its way a bit in the last half hour, going on too long and leaving the identities of all the good and bad guys unclear until the very end. I think the film could have simultaneously been more snappy and less murky. Still, it's got a lot going for it and is certainly worth seeing, especially if one enjoys film noir or the excellent lead actors.

Speaking of lead actors, it was intriguing that O'Brien and Marshall are cast against type -- sitting down to the movie, one would expect Marshall to be the art critic. However, O'Brien's "everyman" quality comes to seem like perfect casting when he delivers his lecture on art and "knowing what you like," as the audience learns he's a bit of a rebel in museum circles.

O'Brien had a good run of films in the mid to late '40s, including a couple of my personal favorites, SECRET COMMAND (1944) and RIFFRAFF (1947).

The cast also includes Ray Collins, Dean Harens, Damian O'Flynn, Mary Ware, and Erskine Sanford.

CRACK-UP was directed by Irving Reis and filmed in black and white by Robert de Grasse.

CRACK-UP was a very nice print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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