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Polio breaks out in Rio de Janeiro, the serum is in Santiago and there's only one way to get the medicine where it's desperately needed: flown in by daring pilots who risk the treacherous weather and forbidding peaks of the Andes.
I'll explain the weird title first: John Barrymore stars as a European prince named Christian Rudolf Augustus Christopher Ketler. When he goes off to war, he combines the initials of his five names into an acronym and calls himself 'General Crack' ... but Barrymore and most of the other cast members in this movie are playing characters whose first language would be German, so we don't know if Barrymore's character is aware of all the English-language (and Irish) implications of the word 'Crack'.
I viewed a very bad print of 'General Crack' which was seriously deteriorated. The film is mostly black-and-white, but contained a colour sequence which is supposed to take place at the palace of the Archduchess Maria of the Holy Roman Empire: this sequence was almost completely deteriorated, so I can't comment on it, and I may have missed a few plot points elsewhere in the movie.
This film takes place in Europe, a couple of decades before the Crimean War. Barrymore plays a Graustarkian prince. For reasons which I failed to catch, he marries a sloe-eyed Romany (Gypsy) girl named Fidelia. This is completely implausible: in those days, a nobleman couldn't possibly marry a commoner (much less a Gypsy) and hope to retain his title. Look what happened to Edward VIII, a hundred years later. When Fidelia betrays him (she should have changed her name to Infidelia), Crack abandons her and marries Archduchess Maria. Royal intrigues ensue, none of them very interesting and all of a sub-Mayerling nature.
I suppose that 1930 audiences went to this movie to hear Barrymore's voice and to see him play romantic scenes. On those counts, he doesn't disappoint. The soundtrack is poor but it conveys Barrymore's rich baritone voice and splendid diction. In this movie, he spends a lot of time pitching woo to beautiful actresses, exhibiting his famous profile while wearing elaborate military uniforms, and generally buckling his swash.
As the (not arch enough) Archduchess, Marian Nixon is quite pretty and delicate but she utterly fails to convey the dignity and authority that such a personage would possess. We can't accept that she's been trained from birth for this high position. Otto Matieson is excellent in a supporting role. Julanne Johnston is attractive, and she steals one scene very effectively.
I shan't rate this film, as the print which I viewed was badly damaged and incomplete. But Barrymore's considerable talent shines through. Despite its howlingly unlikely plot, this may well have been an excellent movie.
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