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CRACK-UP(director: Irving Reis; screenwriters: John Paxton/Ben Bengal/Ray Spencer/from the short story “Madman’s Holiday” by Fredic Brown; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Frederick Knudtson; music: Leigh Harline; cast: Pat O’Brien (George Steele), Claire Trevor (Terry Cordeau), Herbert Marshall (Traybin), Ray Collins (Dr. Lowell), Wallace Ford (Cochrane), Dean Harens (Reynolds), Damian O’Flynn (Stevenson), Erskine Sanford (Mr. Barton), Mary Ware (Mary); Runtime: 93; RKO; 1946)
“The art lesson didn’t register, but as a thriller Crack-Up wasn’t a disaster.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A film noir set in a Manhattan art museum. It stars Pat O’Brien as George Steele, who is an art lecturer for the museum. He was an army captain during the war, and was considered an expert in tracking down Nazi art forgeries. In the opening scene George crashes through the locked nighttime museum doors and when approached by the beat cop, takes a punch at him and tumbles over a valuable statue. When subdued, the museum’s board of directors — Dr. Lowell (Collins), Reynolds (Harens), Stevenson (O’Flynn), and the museum’s head curator, Barton (Sanford) — come rushing down from meeting upstairs. They refuse to press charges, saying George was either drunk or strangely ill. The museum curator says he wishes to avoid a scandal. George claims he was in a train wreck, but the investigating officer, Lieutenant Cochrane (Ford), says there were no reported accidents. Undercover Scotland Yard investigator, Traybin (Marshall), talks the police into letting George go with a tail on him, saying he could be useful on the loose. The board fires George as a lecturer, as there were previous complaints that his lectures were too plebeian.

Since George has no memory of what actually happened, he takes the same train ride to see if it can jar his memory. George remembers boarding the train when he received a call telling him that his mother was ill. George’s helped by his newspaper columnist girlfriend Terry Cordeau (Trevor), who is also helping Traybin in his mysterious investigation of the museum. The Scotland Yard investigator figures George must know something, which must be the reason why the guilty party or parties are trying to get George out of the way.

George’s big clue comes when the board member who sponsored him, Stevenson (O’Flynn), tells him to meet him in the museum’s art vault. George arrives too late, as Stevenson was just murdered. But since the nightwatchman spots him standing over the body, he becomes a prime suspect and goes on the run. But George uncovers a forgery plot to copy paintings from masters on loan to the museum and steal the original and replace it with a copy. George learns a valuable Gainsborough that hung in the museum was a copy and that copy was destroyed in a ship fire off the coast of England. And he further finds out that Barton is forced to go along with the scheme or else his reputation is ruined.

When George rescues Durer’s painting of “Adoration of the Kings” from a ship fire, as the painting was being shipped out after exhibiting in the museum, he gets the museum secretary, Mary (Ware), to get him inside the museum where he can X-ray the art work to see if it is a forgery. When he discovers it is a forgery, he is kidnapped by the guilty parties and given another injection of a truth serum. This explains how he thought he was in a train wreck and can’t remember anything else.

The film takes a populist stand by promoting ‘art for the masses’ and takes a negative view of the art elitists (art critics and collectors) who favor such art styles as surrealism. That kind of art is considered subversive by George and is not as tame as is the classical style of Gainsborough. The art lesson didn’t register, but as a thriller Crack-Up was right on track. The shadowy photography by Robert de Grasse was done in stylish chiaroscuro shadings, giving the film an uncanny feel. O’Brien was convincing as the pig-headed unconscious American who has modern technology work for him and against him, as the inventions from the war are now shared by both criminals and scientists.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”