El Crack (The Crack, 1981)
Directed by José Luis Garci
Written by José Luis Garci and Horacio Valcárcel
Starring: Alfredo Landa, Miguel Rellán, María Casanova, Raúl Fraire
BY LUIS EZPELETA
The seven-minute set piece which opens 1981’s José Luis Garci´s El Crack powerfully introduces Germán Areta, a tough, heavy-smoking private eye and former police officer nicknamed “ El Piojo” (The Louse). Areta works with his assistant, Cárdenas (Miguel Rellán) a.k.a “El Moro” (“The Moor”) and has a special friendship with an emotionally troubled nurse called Carmen (María Casanova) and her daughter Mayte (Mónica Prieto) who awakens Areta’s most loving side. One day, the private eye is hired by a businessman (Raúl Fraire) to look for his missing daughter, Isabel. After carrying out some inquiry, Germán learns that Isabel was forced by her father to have an abortion and that she has recently worked as a prostitute. When he tries to get some further information, Areta is pressured to leave the case. To make matters worse, Mayte is slain in an incident involving a car bomb. After that, Areta is determined to find out what happened to Isabel and who took Mayte’s life. The clues of the case and his desire for vengeance lead him to New York City.
El Crack could easily be considered the odd-one-out within Spanish Oscar-winning director and film lover José Luis Garci’s sickly-sweet filmography. The fact that the film is dedicated to hard boiled fiction author Dashiell Hammett suggests that Garci and his scriptwriter Horacio Valcárcel looked all the way back to Hollywood classical film noir period for inspiration. In this sense, their intentions are absolutely honest. The film brings together some of the most outstanding conventions of that genre, such as an intricate plot, shady and smoky atmospheres, heartless characters and above all, a Spade-Marlowesque insightful private eye. However, we miss the manipulating femme fatal. The relationship between Germán and Carmen turns out to be too conventional and lacks sexual tension, being shown from a melodramatic point of view. The action takes place during the harsh moment Spain was going through in the very early 80’s (the title of the film tries to symbolize it) when the country had just left behind General Franco’s dictatorship. This fact helps to understand the fascination for America, understood as the clearest example of freedom and democracy. This idea is introduced through multiple references to American popular culture (a constant in most of Garci’s works) such as the conversations on boxing between Areta and his barber (who fabricates a past life in New York) and the allusions to Humphrey Bogart and Rocky Marciano. Likewise, the New York climax allows Garci to film the main landmarks of the city with tourist devotion. The wise depiction of characters and settings as well as Landa’s stunning embodiment of his surly character are the main virtues of this film that is far from suffering Garci’s traditional narrative arrhythmia.
Because of its overwhelming success, a sequel (El Crack 2) was released only two years later.
Trailer (English subtitles)
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