April 30, 2008

CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965) - apocalypse then

(US, 1965)

Science-free, disaster movie, now on DVD and Blu-ray! 

This was a regular Saturday night action film on TV in the seventies and it horrified me when I first saw it. The offscreen body-count quickly runs into tens of thousands, and a scene showing a nasty train wreck gave me an early experience of death in the movies. A recent viewing was much more fun. It's a well-made sci-fi adventure, where science and logic take a backseat to unsubtle melodrama.

(Screengrab from VHS)
'Project Inner Space' is an ambitious scheme to harness molten magma for unlimited energy. Why they don't just relocate to a volcano isn't explained. After glossing over the potential dangers, Dr Sorenson gets the go-ahead to fire a nuclear missile (!) downwards into the Earth, in order to break through a troublesome mantle of superhard rock. Unfortunately for the Earth, dozens of underground nuclear tests (in Africa?) have already weakened the tectonic plate. A crack in the Earth’s crust rips open and keeps on cracking (whoops). A growing death toll of those killed by earthquakes and tidal waves (all offscreen) weigh heavily on Dr Sorenson’s conscience - he needs an almighty quick fix. As the rift starts ‘travelling’ along the ocean floor, there’s even some submarine action as is usual in tectonic thrillers, also evident in The Submersion of Japan movies.

(Screengrab from VHS)
The scientists’ solution to stopping the crack is to head it off at the volcano, by dropping a second atomic bomb... by hand! In a scene reminiscent of the ‘Pit of Peril’ episode of Thunderbirds (coincidentally from the same year), two men lower themselves into the volcano with a nuclear device. Surprisingly, this only makes matters worse, and our heroes face the apocalypse (like the rest of the world) as well as a troublesome love triangle.

Dr Sorenson (played by Dana Andrews, again looking through large lucite maps, just like he does in The Satan Bug) is married to Maggie, an exceedingly young bombshell played by Janette Scott. Maggie soon starts flitting between her husband and her ex-lover, (Kieron Moore) like a glamorous ping pong ball. The usually restrained Dana Andrews is encouraged way outside his usual acting range in an attempt to match Moore’s usual, surly, overloud style. Janette gets to let rip her impressive Triffid scream, and displays an Earth-shattering amount of thigh during the climax.

This movie surely inspired the moment in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, when little cute animals emerged from hiding after the Martians were defeated. This is an entertaining example of sixties ‘apocalypse movies’, following the thrills of When Worlds Collide and Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Before the localised catastrophes of the disaster movies of the seventies, B-movie sci-fi aimed high by promising global chaos on a low budget. Other apocalypses are the more serious The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and of course The Day of the Triffids, which is closely related to this production.

Crack in the World manages some excellent special effects, courtesy of Eugene Lourie (director of the similarly colourful Gorgo). In his autobiography, Lourie describes his effects work, particularly the large-scale models of the project HQ and a flawless hanging miniature used to make the underground laboratory look even more impresive - it bears a striking resemblance to Hugo Drax’s underground mission control in the James Bond movie Moonraker (1979). I can’t remember seeing such a striking use of sloping walls that wasn't designed by Ken Adam! Lourie also mentions that the glowing lava effects he developed for this film, he later used again in Krakatoa, East of Java (1969).

Crack in the World was entirely shot in Spain, where much of Day of the Triffids took place. Triffids also starred Janette Scott and Kieron Moore together. Moore, who passed away last year, could only ever muster leading roles in lower budget movies, and supporting roles in bigger movies. But despite, and because of, his surly acting, he is always a highlight. A trilogy of his leading roles, Crack in the World, Day of the Triffids and Dr Blood’s Coffin, make an enjoyable cross-section of sixties genre movies.

The bombastic soundtrack by Johnny Douglas strengthens the mood of impending doom, certainly for a ten-year old. The wall-to-wall background music also over-emphasises every single possible emotional corner of the already unsubtle acting.

Thankfully, this has now made it to DVD and Blu-ray (!) in the US.

There's no trailer on YouTube, but there's a brief clip (from VHS)...

(This article was last updated October 2011, originally posted in April 2008).


  1. There is a full version now on Google Video (watched it the other day), at http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8720806257609918145
    (or just google "Crack in the World"). Also downloadable at the same site.

  2. Good news, but I'd still pay for it if it wa restored on DVD.

  3. With all of the crap that is receiving full-blown remasterings, this (and The Satan Bug) are two that really deserves the work. Colossus, the Forbin Project was another mis-step. Pan-and-Scan, come-on.
    I could be wrong but I thought that "Crack..." was released on VHS by Paramount in an EP version?

  4. More likely that interested parties can find it on eBay?

  5. Really enjoyed your review. For it's time it was an excellent movie with a lot of detail to the science of it. Sadly the movie came out just before the knowledge of Tectonic plates and continental drift was accepted so the science seems very dates.
    I am glad to see that someone else spotted the similarities between Drax's control center and the control center in the movies.
    I have watched this on Youtube several times as well as seeing it on a late night movie show years ago.