The Salsa at the End of the World

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In the 1965 doomsday film Crack in the World, Dana Andrews is suffering from a disease that appears to be turning him into ketchup.

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Or maybe it’s salsa. Perhaps an expert from H.J. Heinz could clarify.

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I was half-expecting Andrews to transform into a dish of condiments by story’s end, though, as his disease progresses, he merely takes to wearing sunglasses and white gloves. Rather snazzy and stylish, I thought. You only have to stick a fox fur and a snood on him, and Andrews could be a 1940s movie star sallying forth to meet the fans:

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Say, wait, wasn’t Andrews already a 1940s movie star?…

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Well, he still is, as far as I’m concerned. Even in 1965, white-haired and craggy-faced, Andrews is still utterly beautiful to look at, with a perfectly structured visage and eyes that are deep, troubled pools of thought. His eyes are also troubled in this film, as, playing an aging scientist named Sorenson, he rejects for health reasons his much-younger wife’s request to impregnate her. Instead, in what looks suspiciously like a form of intellectual compensation for failed spousal duties, Sorenson prefers working on his prized experiment: to blow a nuclear missile down and through the earth’s crust, to tap into the magma seething at its core as a source of limitless energy. Though I couldn’t help thinking that his handy visual aid, showing how the process works, makes the earth’s fiery insides resemble an upside-down bowl of party dip. Salsa never seems far from this movie.

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Ah, well, just when the party gets going, there’s always a party-pooper. A much-younger colleague of Sorenson’s named Rampion—who also happens to be Mrs. Sorenson’s former boyfriend (a tinge of the green-ey’d monster here)—has come up with a theory (called, unsurprisingly, the Rampion Theory) that such a detonation will fissure the earth like cracked peanut brittle. Unfortunately, he turns out to be right. The nuclear explosion causes a literal rift in the earth, which races round its interior like a run in a stocking, and threatens to split the planet in two. The only solution is to drop another bomb into a volcano, the resulting eruption, as I understood it, to create another hole big enough to lighten the pressure and halt the rift. In time to stop the salsa hitting the fan.

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Crack in the World aims beyond your typical schlocky sci-fi end-of-the-world flick. It’s a serious film, emphasizing the science in science-fiction, and the hubris of the scientists involved. There’s a real, if outdated, physics behind the film’s premise (interested readers can find out more here at the And You Call Yourself a Scientist! blog), and it’s applied heavily. We hear discussions on hydrogen pockets, terrestrial faults, seismograph records, and wave intensity analysis. Characters say lines like “These are echo soundings and deep vibration tests made in the fault area” and “You have the figures yet on residual radioactivity?” Rampion explains to interested parties how the missile “will rip the earth apart and destroy it.” (“You mean,” asks one clueless NGO type, “the world will come to an end?”) And the members of our romantic triangle behave with seriously stiff-upper-lip rectitude, Mrs. Sorenson querying, with a nobility that would do Norma Shearer proud, “Can’t we be decent to each other now?”

Me, I’m distinctly weird in my doomsday-cinema tastes. If someone’s gonna blow a hole in the world, I want a monster to come slithering out of it. The greener-eyed, the better. And if you’re gonna have scientists playing God, as Rampion accuses Sorenson of doing, then, puh-leeze, at least give me Colin Clive—someone who gets off on impersonating the Deity like Coleridge on honeydew and the milk of paradise. I mean, Crack is sincere and well-done and all that, and the special effects are pretty good, but when you’re dealing with the end of the world as movies know it, I’d like a dash of madness added. Just for that extra spice in the dip.

Crack may not be cracking mad enough for my liking, but I have found something a little nutty happening in its proceedings. Kind of bubbling below the surface, in its subconscious magma. I’d say it’s more like theory of Freud than theory of Rampion geophysics; it gives a whole new interpretation to the film, the way tomatoes can redden pesto sauce. Just note all those scenes of rockets being shot into shafts or bombs being lowered into holes:

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–which penetrations are then followed by climaxing explosions:

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–and afterwards the earth rumbles, shudders, and then cleaves into various gaps and breaches:

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–the result being a final cataclysmic shock that shoots a chunk of our planet into the stratosphere, to form an entire new moon orbiting in outer space:

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Yes, I think I can safely state that there’s more going on here than your typical end-of the-world movie…

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But, hey, it’s not the end of the world, only the end of the year, when everyone starts to act a bit nutty anyway. Time to get up, get out, and party. Wear silly hats, drink champagne, and sing “Auld Lang Syne” till the cows come home. Invite your friends over to watch a fun movie. Don’t forget the popcorn and snacks—you know, the cheese, crackers, veggies, chips, and, oh yes, salsa.

And if you happen to run out of salsa, just bring on Dana Andrews for some extra dip.

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–Happy New Year.

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