(1965) Directed by Andrew Marton; Written by Jon Manchip White and Julian Zimet; Story by Jon Manchip White; Starring: Dana Andrews, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore and Alexander Knox; Available on Blu-ray and DVD
“Someone once said, if a man had a chance to spend his life fishing, making love and watching things grow, and didn’t choose to do it, he was mad. I made that choice a long time ago.” – Dr. Stephen Sorenson (Dana Andrews)
Some of my fondest childhood memories involved watching movies depicting worldwide cataclysmic events – the more hopeless, the better (yeah, I was a weird kid). I was inexplicably drawn to these depictions of unbridled hubris and its consequences, often accompanied by a mad dash to set things right. One of my TV mainstays was Crack in the World, a B-actioner with A-level ambitions. Like many films of its kind, it was a cautionary tale, reminding us there were some things that humankind shouldn’t tamper with. In this case, we should have listened.
Dr. Stephen Sorenson (Dana Andrews), head of Project Inner Space,* leading an international team of scientists,** stands on the brink of a monumental scientific breakthrough. His plan: to pierce the Earth’s mantle*** with the aid of a missile carrying a 10-megaton thermonuclear device, to access the magma, a source of virtually limitless power. Fellow scientist Dr. Ted Rampion (Kieron Moore) doesn’t think this is such a great idea, theorizing the mantle, already weakened by nuclear testing around the globe, would shatter and tear the Earth apart. Guess who’s right? Naturally, the governing authorities permit Sorenson to proceed with his project. Initially, Rampion is forced to eat his words; that is, until Sorenson’s team starts observing tangible signs that the planet is about to crumble into bits, with a vast undersea rift, massive earthquakes and tidal waves (Nope, the world’s biggest tube of Crazy Glue isn’t going to fix this). When asked if the world will come to an end, he matter-of-factly replies, “The world as we know it, yes. As a cloud of astral dust, it will continue to move within the solar system” (Talk about putting a positive spin on a terrible situation). At this point, Rampion takes charge, in a last-ditch effort to find a way to repair the damage before it’s too late.
* Fun Fact: Crack in the World was filmed in Spain, standing in for the East African country of Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania).
** And by “international,” I mean there’s a token smattering of non-Caucasian researchers. If they’re lucky, they get a line or two of dialogue.
*** Another Fun Fact: The deepest hole on earth is the KolaSuperdeep Borehole, located in the Russian Arctic Circle, at 40,230 feet (or 12.2 km), which is about a third of the way to the Earth’s mantle. Drilling ceased in 1992, when the project ran out of money.
Crack in the World relies on a time-worn love triangle subplot, with Dr. Sorenson’s wife, Maggie (Janette Scott) at its apex. It’s too bad Sorenson, who wants to be right above all else, is more in love with himself than anyone else. She talks about starting a family, but he has other things on his mind, concealing the fact that he’s stricken with an unspecified terminal illness. Meanwhile, Rampion still holds a torch for her, and she hasn’t exactly shaken him from her system, either. As Sorenson pushes her away, she finds herself torn between Sorenson and slightly less self-aggrandizing narcissist Rampion. In typical pre-70s style, Maggie’s work is overshadowed by her male colleagues, and she becomes little more than another pretty face, with her self-value tied to whichever man she’s attached to.
Despite some obvious matte paintings and visible matte lines, the special effects are quite good for the time; much better, by comparison than the similarly themed, CGI-laden Earth-in-peril film, The Core (2003), made almost 40 years later. The effects, which also utilize miniatures and stock footage, integrate fairly well with the action. While the film spends too much time with a love triangle subplot that no one cares about and some primeval sexual politics, the scenes of planetary peril more than make up for any deficits. To its credit, Crack in the World doesn’t spend a lot of time proselytizing about tampering with nature, and the ending provides a nice surprise. It’s the kind of movie that seems extinct today, delivering scope and spectacle on a modest budget.