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At a basement club scene from Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Leo Bartha and his wife Loretta meets Sidney. She offered Sidney a champagne:

Sidney: These imported wines aren't what they're cracked up to be.

Loretta: Whose side are you on, Mr. Falco, his or mine?

Sidney: Frankly, I'm a neutral observer for the United Nations.

(Loretta laughs)

What does "they" in "they're cracked" refer to?

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  • It refers to "these imported wines".
    – BillJ
    Oct 19, 2022 at 17:44

2 Answers 2

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There's an idiomatic expression, "not what it's/they're cracked up to be".

It means, "They're not as good as what people say", or "They're not as good as people believe they are". The phrasal verb "crack up", which in this sense means something like "talk about" or "describe", is never used in this sense anywhere else in English. It only has that meaning in this one expression, and has nothing to do with "crack", as in "break".

So in your context, Sidney is saying, "People say imported wines are so great, but they're really not that great".

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Fun With Slang

slang: to be cracked up to be [something], meaning: not what they are said to be or advertised as being. Often used comparatively. Something that does not measure up to expectations or what is said about something. Or reputation.

Those movies aren't as good as they are cracked up to be.

This restaurant is not as good as it is cracked up to be.

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