Head On

There are two lines of attack here —

  1. CRACK-UP is directed by Irving Reis — I watched all his FALCON films with George Sanders but didn’t particularly find him noteworthy. Then I saw ENCHANTMENT, photographed by Gregg Toland, and found it revelatory, experimental, and very impressive all round. It goes in and out of flashback all in one shot and it’s narrated by a house. I think that gives you an idea.
  2. CRACK-UP is “suggested by” a novella, Madman’s Holiday, by Fredric Brown. Brown wrote lots of sci-fi and crime — the SF is collected and can be got for a song on Kindle, but most of the crime stuff, like this one, is uncollected and a bit tricky or expensive to obtain. But, without having read the story, I can say that the movie seems to capture some of Brown’s demented inventiveness and delirium.

SIDEBAR — I chanced on a big stack of Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks — short stories culled from the Master’s Mystery Magazine, including some rare Donald Westlakes, plus Gerald Kersh, Ross McDonald, Jon Stephen Benet and one Brown, entitled Don’t Look Behind You.

“Try to enjoy this; it’s going to be the last story you ever read, or nearly the last.”

The jist of this paranoid tale of torture and insanity is that the author, a demented forger turned serial killer, has planted this story into this book JUST for you, because you’re his randomly selected victim and he wants to give you fair warning before he pounces. If you read the story late at night, you might actually half-believe it and find yourself scanning the dark corners of the room for the crouching assassin.

CRACK-UP has amnesia, art fraud, sodium pentathol, a gratuitous dwarf joke and lots of noir delirium (the best kind) ~

This clip will seem to be going on much too long, but that’s part of the appeal. Stick with it. As it goes on, and on, you’ll find yourself unable to believe Hollywood produced something so bizarrely distended, so obviously WRONG by the normal rules of the game.

Reis, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER apart, seems a real experimentalist.

Starring Hildy Johnson, Helen Grayle/Velma Valento, Gaston Monescu, Jack Amberson and Phroso the Clown.



8 Responses to “Head On”

  1. The most noteworthy Reis I’ve seen is “The Big Street” — an adaptation of Damon Runyon stories starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. As a Beautiful but crude and narcissistic showgirl, who ends up in a wheelchair thanks to a gangster boyfriend, and is catered to by a adoring busboy (Henry Fonda !), Ball gives not only the greatest performance of her career but one of the greatest of anyone’s career. The last scene is easily the equal of the finaleof the Garbo-Cukor “Camille”

  2. Fun, and as you say, delirious film, But Pat O’Brien as a populist art critic laughing off all modernism is rather hard to take.

  3. Yes, Pat’s profession seems unlikely. Though it helps that the modern art he denounces is a typical fauxDali concoction. Easier to take when we’re being told it’s rubbish, rather than in The Locket where we’re supposed to think it’s terrific.

    But I like his soft-spoken perf, overall.

    If I can find my copy of The Big Street, it’s next on my list…

  4. I saw this years ago. I’ve quite forgotten the details of the plot, but O’Brien’s performance and the ridicule of modern art have stayed with me. Hollywood notions of modern art at this time often straddle the line between the amusingly quaint and the irritatingly obtuse. I’m thinking of Scarlet Street here, another film I haven’t seen in years.

  5. I can’t recall what Scarlet Street has to say about art, other than having Robinson’s art be implausibly successful. Slagging off modernism was probably a surefire way to win the sympathy of many in the audience, or presumed to be so.

  6. If I remember correctly, in Scarlet Street Edward G. Robinson becomes a successful painter, although he doesn’t take credit for his work. The paintings we see are quite awful, and were done by Hollywood artist John Decker. I found this article, which contains a couple of images.

  7. Superb clip. Re: “the best kind” it’s only just occurred to me how many Twilight Zone episodes are simply (and superbly) extended noir deliria.

  8. I’m stunned that Brown was never adapted for Twilight Zone. I think the number of unofficial versions is far higher.

    Alfred Hitchcock Presents did him five times.

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