Sunday, October 16, 2011

BERSERK (1967)

Joan Crawford runs a traveling circus in England. One night, the star aerialist falls to his death, hung by his tightrope, in an apparent accident. Crawford is excited that the news will increase their audience, but her partner (and lover) Michael Gough wants out of the business. Beefcakey American Ty Hardin auditions for the tightrope job by walking the wire with steel bayonets underneath him. He gets the job, and the attentions of Crawford. At the next stop, Gough is killed by a spike through the head and Hardin angles his way in to replace Gough as her business partner. The public does indeed begin to show more interest in the circus, as do the police, and Crawford's daughter (Judy Geeson) who shows up, having been expelled from her boarding school. The next gory death is that of busty circus queen Diana Dors (beware the cutting-in-half trick). Can the Scotland Yard inspector (Robert Hardy) find the killer before the entire circus is decimated? This is better than its reputation as a "scream queen" vehicle for an aging star. Though Crawford is a bit laughable when flirting with Hardin (who was 25 years younger than her), otherwise she's fine in the part, and is still in pretty good shape in her skimpy circus outfits. The circus scenes which provide filler between arguments and murders are actually fun to watch, and the color cinematography is good. At least one of the deaths is a shocking surprise; the identity of the killer, not so much, though it takes some odd narrative convolutions to explain everything. [TCM]

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