Crack in the World (1965)
Hi all, Nate here with another b-movie review (it's what we do here). While we almost exclusively deal with sci-fi and action movies here at MMT, occasionally it's nice to dip a toe into other genres. Stories about love and relationships are not usually my thing, because I'm jaded and my heart is black and cold, but sometimes a romantic movie strikes a chord with me. Crack in the World is a tragic love story that ends badly for nearly everyone involved, a love triangle, to be specific, the most doomed of erotic geometric shapes. Who among us haven't at some point in our lives been in a love triangle? Everyone I know has, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but pain is universal for all three involved.
In our movie, on one pointy end is Maggie, a beautiful, intelligent, funny, worldly twentysometing woman with a PhD and a closet full of sundresses and heels. She's everything any man would covet, a blonde bombshell with a mind of her own, someone who would be a challenge to catch and an even bigger challenge to keep. Except for a few moments where she screams like a 1960's Hollywood starlet, Maggie's character is extremely well-written and well-acted, giving us a peek at a fantastically layered person in the end.
Desirable in every way.
Her husband is Stephen, a much older man (easily twice her age). One of the most brilliant theoretical scientists in the world, Stephen is tall and handsome, a leader of men and a founder of projects. He's exactly the sort of wealthy and wise silver-haired fox that younger women flock to. Sadly, Stephen is also sick and near death, with perhaps just a month to live when the film opens. He's been keeping this news from his wife Maggie, and from everyone else, for his own selfish reasons.
Stephen doesn't smile much these days.
Maggie and Stephen met at college, where he was her professor in thermodynamics. As such things happen, she was smitten by Stephen's authority and commanding presence and a May/December romance blossomed. For his part, Stephen was happy to have a pretty young thing on his arm, though it's clear that she's more than just a trophy wife to him, there is (or was) genuine love mixed in there.
Hopefully he wore fewer sweaters back then.
Of course, Maggie wasn't single when she fell in love with Stephen back in the classroom. Her boyfriend at the time was Ted, a hunky young man with a sexy Irish accent and ripped pecs. Ted and Maggie were the power-couple in school, both whip smart and destined to be Doctors of science and make pretty babies. Then Maggie fell in love with another man. She and Stephen conspired to send Ted off on a field-study far away while they consummated and grew their affair, and when he returned, Ted found he was the odd man out. Ouch, been there, buddy.
Ted and his helicopter (swoon!).
Fast forward a decade or so, to when our movie opens, and as such things do happen from time to time, all three characters are now working on the same science project in Africa. Stephen is in charge, Maggie seems to be either his secretary or maybe just here for moral support, and Ted is a hired underling. Ted is just here trying to make a living (and a difference in the world), but his mere presence is making things uncomfortable for Stephen and Maggie, enough so that you wonder why he hired Ted in the first place.
Understandable tension at work.
Does Maggie secretly still love Ted? Or is she just a skank? Has she been carrying a torch for the last 10 years, or just since they started working together has she been thinking about the good old days? Ted perhaps also secretly (or not so?) loves Maggie still, but he's more focused on his job than anything. Still, Stephen starts to use his power to keep Ted under control, including sending him off on another wild goose field-study trip when a decision has to be made that he knows that Ted will disagree with. It doesn't escape Ted that this was the same ploy the old man used back in college to shack up with his girlfriend. While away, Ted writes a letter back to the HQ, and while it's about work stuff, it's pointedly addressed only to Maggie, which royally pisses Stephen off. Maggie uses this letter to her advantage in a painfully great scene where Stephen blows her off when she's trying to get frisky and she pointedly starts reading Ted's letter while right next to him. Cold, baby, ice cold.
Sundown Rule is not in effect.
Stephen feels the pressure, both to complete his project successfully and to keep his wife happy, realizing that Ted is back in the picture. It doesn't help that he knows he'll be dead in a month. Not totally out of character for an aging former alpha male, Stephen does not handle his personal issues well. Surely seeking to “protect her” or more likely “save face and embarrassment”, Stephen is a raging dick to Maggie, being nothing but snippy and insulting when she tries to be comforting and concerned. This serves only to push her further away and into arms of Ted (who is less of a dick). If Stephen would just tell her about his illness then surely she could be of help to him in his last days. To not trust her, his wife, with this info is both insulting to her and pretty stupid for him. What has he got to lose at this point?
Cut the girl some slack, willya?
Understandably, Maggie is emotionally pulled in two directions and she's given up on curling her hair or keeping her heels on. Like a knight in shining armor (with a helicopter!) in steps Ted to be the “strong, supportive best friend” to lend a shoulder to cry on and to work some passive-aggressive “you should be with me” magic on the side. I don't mean to make Ted out to be a compassionless horndog caught in the Friend Zone, because he's much more nice and honest than that. Ted clearly has never stopped caring for (if not “loving”) Maggie and hates to see her suffering, even if it's kinda her own fault. Not once does he whip out the “I told you so...” card, even though he could, kudos to him
They bond over surveying equipment.
As Stephen lays dying, literally in his last hours, Maggie leaves Ted to be with him in the end. Ted understands and supports her decision, going out of his way to make sure she has a chance to spend some quality time with Stephen before he passes, even though it's at great emotional risk to himself. The cynic in me feels that Ted knows that he's going to win the prize (Maggie) no matter what, so why not come across as the Good Guy at the end? I'm probably selling Ted short, however, he does seem like a pretty upstanding man. It's also been clear that Ted has great respect for Stephen as an academic and a leader, so his loss has some effect on him as well.
That's gotta feel good.
So, to the surprise of no one, not long after Stephen dies a noble death in his lab, Maggie and Ted are a couple again. I'm actually fine with this, they never should have broken up to begin with and they do make a cute couple. But, and this is a big caveat, everything we've seen of Maggie so far suggests that their second-time-around relationship might not last. As Ted gets older, grows more boring and gray-haired, who would be surprised if Maggie's eye begins to wander to the next powerful, assertive man? A woman like Maggie will always be surrounded by influential men because of her beauty and presence, Ted will hopefully keep on his toes.
Enjoy it while you can, buddy.
But that's also being too harsh on Maggie. Despite our society's cattiness, there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to improve your station in life, be it a richer man or a better job, and there's nothing to keep her from looking for the “next big thing”. Life is nasty, brutish, and short, to steal a quote, and Maggie has the right to enjoy the fruits of her life as much as anyone, the notion that she has to stay with a single romantic partner when she could upgrade is old fashioned and pointless. More power to you, girl.
Not even sure she knows how to be happy.
Oh, and by the way, Stephen's work project was to blast a hole in the crust of the Earth with a nuclear warhead, which caused a massive chunk of the continental crust to explode off into space in a horrible catastrophe of molten magma and fiery hydrogen. The only way that the planet survived being pulverized was because Ted put another nuke inside an active volcano, because why not. Billions dead, the Earth's gravity and orbit irreversibly screwed, reputations tarnished, just a wicked mess. Nice work, everyone, an Extinction Level Event getting in the way of our love story, you couldn't have saved all that for a sequel?
Written in October 2016 by Nathan Decker.
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