21 August 2010 | robert-temple-1
Peter Lorre as a spymaster in this pre-War espionage thriller
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.