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Alienation, amnesia, and corruption are all common ingredients of film noir, and Crack-Up (1946) is a trim, neglected example of the style. Variety called it simply "an actioner that moves along at a fairly fast clip, and has been given good production values."
The plot finds an art expert (Pat O'Brien), who specializes in detecting forgeries, losing his job at an art museum after he mysteriously has a mental breakdown. He claims he was in a train wreck but the police can find no record of such an accident. So he teams up with his reporter girlfriend (Claire Trevor) to get at the bottom of the mystery and starts to unravel a deep trail of corruption and forgery in the art world.
Two of the most notable film noir titles, Laura (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945), also make central use of painting and art, and all three films use the subject to create mysterious and even sinister atmospheres. In the case of Crack-Up, the presence of Claire Trevor lends an additional noir feel, since she was just coming off Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Johnny Angel (1945) and was still to appear in Born to Kill (1947), Key Largo (1948) and Raw Deal (1948), all of which are key noir titles. Trevor was a true icon of film noir and played both heroines and femme fatales, an unusual distinction.
Leading man Pat O'Brien and director Irving Reis, on the other hand, are something of anomalies in the world of film noir, though O'Brien would later appear in The People Against O'Hara (1951). Crack-Up was the only noir that Irving Reis directed, but it's perhaps his best film, if not his best known. That distinction belongs to the picture he did next, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), a romantic comedy which starred Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple and which was a complete turnaround from Crack-Up.
Producer: Jack J. Gross
Director: Irving Reis
Screenplay: John Paxton, Ben Bengal, Ray Spencer, based on the story "Madman's Holiday" by Fredric Brown
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Music: Leigh Harline
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Cast: Pat O'Brien (George Steele), Claire Trevor (Terry Cordell), Herbert Marshall (Traybin), Ray Collins (Dr. Lowell), Wallace Ford (Lt. Cochrane), Dean Harens (Reynolds), Damian O'Flynn (Stevenson).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold