Crack-Up (1936) Poster


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Peter Lorre as a spymaster in this pre-War espionage thriller
robert-temple-121 August 2010
The first thing that needs to be said is that the title of this film dos not refer to a psychological crack-up. 'Crack-up' was the term used in the mid-1930s for an air crash, and towards the end of the film, there is such a crash. The whole film is based upon a new transatlantic airplane design developed in America. For some reason which is never made clear, its test flight across the Atlantic is meant to go to Berlin. Peter Lorre hangs around the airport and the hanger pretending to be an enthusiastic simpleton, holding and blowing a toy trumpet from time to time and saying that he is the mascot of the team developing the plane. Everybody tolerates him as an amusing eccentric. In reality, however, he is a spy who wants to steal the blueprints, which are locked in a safe. He is really a German Baron and runs an espionage ring which is based in a secret room in Chinatown. He is totally ruthless and shoots dead one of his own agents for making a mistake. Lorre has bribed the test pilot, played by Brian Donlevy, with $20,000 to hand over the blueprints to him. But first Donlevy has to trick his young assistant into stealing them for him from the safe because he has access every night as he waits for his fiancée to finish work in the main office. This film is based on a story by John F. Goodrich, who died at the age of 50 almost immediately afterwards, so that it was the last of his 42 film stories and scripts. (Probably the only one remembered today was his adaptation of Zane Grey's RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, of 1931). The film was directed by Malcolm St. Clair (1897-1952), who directed the original and non-musical 1928 film version of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, for which Anita Loos (such a fascinating and delightful woman, whom I knew when I was young) wrote her own screenplay; I have never encountered a copy of this original and would dearly love to see it, as Loos's novel is one of the funniest I have ever read, and as she did the script it must have been true to the humour and to the book. The film is an interesting period piece, showing common American attitudes towards espionage in the mid-thirties, and the consciousness of air technology's importance. (If only the Americans had known how far ahead the Nazis already were with their advanced aircraft designs and production, and how little they needed to steal any secrets from the backward USA at that time!) This film features a dramatic air crash into the Atlantic, with tense scenes between people as they bob on the waves trapped inside the fuselage, and the entire story moves at a good pace and is entertaining.
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Prelude to War
EdgarST30 August 2015
Surprisingly good, low-budget little espionage thriller, told in 70 minutes (so you don't have much time to question the accuracy of the plot), with good performances by all, including Peter Lorre and J. Carrol Naish in subtle characterizations, and Thomas Beck in a major role. The plot concerning a German conspiracy to steal the blueprints of a new American airplane is centered around four male characters (Lorre, Beck, Brian Donlevy and Ralph Morgan) who end up together in a dangerous flight over the Atlantic. The fast dramatic events include ruthless killings and a plane crash, all unknowingly leading to II World War.
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If Ed Wood had lived twenty years before....
dbdumonteil24 January 2008
...that 's exactly what he might have done .And do not get me wrong:I like Ed Wood's movies! A spy thriller?A spoof? Who knows?Peter Lorre 's tongue -in-cheek performance is a true delight;whatever he plays, a "colonel" "playing" the trumpet ,a Bondesque Spectre/Blofeld (the scene when he gets rid of the man who betrayed him),or a romantic lunatic reciting Byron's poem ,or a hero who redeems himself,he is simply great!Matching him every step of the way is Brian Donlevy's "Ace" (sic!!!).And what about the crate(which might have inspired Wood)?Who on earth would like to steal that?The scene when the "plane" falls into the sea predates Wood's flying saucers !In that context,the young romantic lead (played by Thomas Beck who does not seem to realize how ridiculous the story is)can be nothing but a joke.

This is hilarious and should not be missed.
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New York to Berlin
bkoganbing14 July 2017
For a B film Crack-Up has a more complex plot than usual and some of the characters are clearly modeled on some prominent figures, Brian Donlevy is Floyd Bennett and Ralph Morgan to me represents Orville Wright.

But Peter Lorre steals this film in a turnabout performance. When we first meet him he's a local character who hangs around an airfield who no one quite takes seriously. Than later we learn he's actually the head of a spy ring for an unknown country, but I'm thinking the Soviet Union.

Donlevy is not only an ace pilot, but an aircraft designer and he's got a new type model propeller that Lorre's crowd wants. Circumstances and the film's plot bring Morgan, Donlevy, and Lorre together on a downed plane which Donlevy was piloting on an experimental New York to Berlin run. The dynamics between these three and young Thomas Beck on the plane to Berlin is quite interesting.

This one is a neglected sleeper. Try to catch it.
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This could have been a lot better.
MartinHafer3 July 2018
This B-movie includes spies, murder and a thief trying to sell blueprints to a fancy new airplane....all things that sounds really exciting. Then HOW did the filmmakers drop the ball like they did and create a dud??

The story begins just before a new cross-Atlantic airliner is tested. Into the ceremony comes Colonel Gimpy (Peter Lorre) with some of the most amazing over-acting I've ever seen. Apparently, everyone at the airplane factory things he's a harmless old crank...little do they know that he's a spy seeking to steal the airplane with the help of the pilot, Ace Martin (Brian Donlevy). But the plan does NOT go as everyone expects and it leads to an overly long and bizarre ending which makes no sense....none at all.

What you have here is a B-movie made by a top studio (Twentieth Century-Fox). It has excellent production values, excellent acting (even Lorre's overacting) but what it doesn't have is a good script. It's a shame, as I like old aviation pictures...but this one really suffers from a script that goes no where in the second half of the film. How disappointing.
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The Origin of Keyser Soze
arthur_tafero26 July 2018
Did you ever wonder if the Kevin Spacey character in the Usual Suspects, Keyser Soze was done before? Well, it was. The Peter Lorre character, Colonel Gimpy (right down to the gimpy limp) is obviously the prototype for the Spacey character. It is interesting to note that not one critic from any of the online review services ever caught this before.

But IMBD has. We caught it when we saw this film, Crack-Up, starring Peter Lorre and Brian Donlevy. Make no mistake, this is a middling, poorly written film. especially in the second half of the movie. But the character of Colonel Gimpy is outstanding, and a fit model for Keyser Soze, decades later. Fascinating to watch just to see where the Keyser Soze character comes from.
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