Ring of Fear (1954) Poster

(1954)

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6/10
Cashing In On The Greatest Show On Earth
bkoganbing24 January 2007
After Cecil B. DeMille's extravaganza, The Greatest Show On Earth came out, he showed Charlton Heston a review from a paper and told him it was the greatest review he will ever have as an actor. The reviewer remarked at what a great performance DeMille got out of the circus boss. Of course Charlton Heston wasn't CHARLTON HESTON back then.

What John Wayne and partner Robert Fellows did instead of getting actors hired a couple of real people to play themselves, Clyde Beatty and Mickey Spillane. Good thing these two did not attempt to create a character and just played themselves.

Clyde Beatty, jungle cat trainer extraordinaire, just isn't and actor. The poor man looked very embarrassed indeed. My guess is that he wanted to publicize his circus in the way that Ringling Brothers had their circus publicized by DeMille. I'm sure that is the genesis of Ring of Fear. Beatty had played himself before in the Abbott&Costello film Africa Screams. There like here his dialog was kept to a minimum.

When you've got a string of unexplained accidents at the circus, what do you do, but hire a mystery writer to solve the crime. That's what Beatty does, his circus boss played by Pat O'Brien gets Mickey Spillane obviously thinking he's really Mike Hammer. Fortunately what Spillane does is get a real detective to do the actual work.

Like The Greatest Show on Earth, Ring of Fear has a psychotic doing all these dastardly deeds. Sean McClory steps into the able psychotic shoes of Lyle Bettger. Bettger's psychosis however in the other film was only part of that plot. Here the suspense is killed rather early when you know right away that McClory is the bad guy.

In his memoirs The Wind at my Back, Pat O'Brien took time to thank John Wayne for this part. His career was in doldrums at the time and O'Brien was grateful for the part. He certainly out acted his two co-stars.

The circus acts are entertaining, they're the best part of Ring of Fear. John Wayne later on appeared in a circus film of his own, Circus World, that director/writer James Edward Grant did the script for him. That Cinerama epic, unfortunately ran into an unforeseen problem.

The re-release of The Greatest Show On Earth.
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6/10
Mickey Spillane investigates crimes at the Clyde Beatty Circus in cinema-scope!
django-112 June 2006
Well, say what you will about RING OF FEAR, it's certainly a novelty. First of all, the real "Star" is the Clyde Beatty Circus, which couldn't have purchased better advertising than this beautifully shot color and cinema-scope production, half of which must be the circus's best acts. A psycho is at loose in the circus, so the great crime writer Mickey Spillane, playing himself, is called in to investigate! Spillane himself calls in for a fellow investigator to help, and that guy poses as a magazine reporter. Pat O'Brien plays the manager of the circus, and Clyde Beatty himself also appears and does a number of lion and tiger-taming routines. Irish actor Sean McCrory, in an over-the-top performance, plays a one-time circus employee who became a stalker of a lady working at the circus and escapes from a mental institution to re-join the circus (and this is NOT a spoiler--all this is shown in the first few scenes), where he's accepted back as ringmaster. There's even comedy scenes with Batjac Productions regular Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez! My favorite scene is one where Mickey Spillane shows up at the circus and runs into the uncredited comic master Vince Barnett, who is reading Spillane novels on the job all day and explains to Spillane himself how his productivity has gone down so much due to Mick's novels! Mick then produces his newest one, hot of the press, and hands it to Barnett, who almost salivates over it! There's not much "mystery" here since we know exactly how each crime is committed, and we only get to know about a half dozen employees of the circus at all, so obviously the suspect pool from which Spillane and assistant have to choose isn't really that large. No, what makes the film entertaining is the circus setting, the idea of Mickey Spillane playing himself, and the colorful performances. Pat O'Brien (no relation to the bar or the TV gossip host) could play a role like this in his sleep, but he still has the gruff authenticity that makes him so watchable and loved by audiences for decades. Spillane comes off as an amiable and sarcastic yet tough guy. Sean McCrory, the "human star" of the film (the circus itself being the main star), chews the scenery and one wonders how ANYONE would not instantly think he was guilty of SOMETHING. This film will no doubt get a large audience through its being included in the new box set JOHN WAYNE'S SUSPENSE COLLECTION, which contains four Batjac Productions (see also my review of MAN IN THE VAULT, also in the package). It's a fascinating curio that's worth watching once, and may have some camp appeal for future viewings. As a Spillane fan, I'm happy to see the master in anything, so I may well watch it again. The transfer is superb on the DVD with rich colors and fine widescreen composition. One can only imagine how beautiful and awesome the circus scenes were on a large 1950's movie screen.
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6/10
More fun than "The Greatest Show on Earth"...
Neil Doyle24 January 2007
While RING OF FEAR may not qualify for Best Film of the Year (as DeMille's circus epic did), it is a colorful and fast moving story of life under the big circus tent, whereby an ex-employee returns to his old job seeking vengeance on none other than CLYDE BEATTY and intent on evening the score for an ex-girlfriend who married another man (JOHN BROMFIELD). Beatty's lion-taming act is fascinating to watch.

The film's main purpose seems to be in showcasing the circus life, the roustabouts setting up the tents, the training of wild animals (and I do mean wild), the petty arguments among the trapeze artists and other performers, and all of it supervised by a caustic manager (PAT O'BRIEN) in the sort of brassy wise-guy role he could have performed in his sleep. For added interest, there's a laid-back performance from MICKEY SPILLANE as himself, helping O'Brien solve the case of the psychopath bent on murderous revenge, who is hiding out in the traveling circus.

SEAN McCLORY is guilty of overacting in many a scene but he does create a fascinating offbeat character as the madman who has escaped from confinement and is intent on revenge. The last fifteen minutes of the film contain more suspense and excitement than deMille managed to do in his lengthy, pretentious Oscar-winning epic THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.

Summing up: Not masterpiece theater as far as acting and script are concerned, but interesting enough as a suspense tale played against a colorful circus background, to maintain a reasonable amount of interest.
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6/10
Great Circus Show, Weak Plot and Acting
Claudio Carvalho1 April 2009
After being analyzed by three psychologists and considered schizophrenic with homicidal tendencies, the former ringmaster Dublin O'Malley (Sean McClory) subdues the guard that is escorting him to his room and escapes from the mental institution where he is interned. He travels by train and later he attacks a worker and swaps the clothing, throwing the man on the trail of an approaching train. Then he goes to the city where the Clyde Beatty Circus is camped, seeking revenge against the lion tamer Clyde Beatty and also seeking out his former lover, the trapeze artist Valerie St. Dennis (Marian Carr). Valerie is married with her mate Armand St. Dennis (John Bromfield), with whom they have a daughter. Dublin meets the alcoholic clown Twitchy (Emmett Lynn) and uses booze to force him to sabotage the circus. Then Dublin is hired by Frank Wallace (Pat O'Brien) to his former position. Frank also brings the writer Mickey Spillane and detective Jack Stang to investigate the sabotages and make clear to the superstitious performers that there is no jinx in the circus. When Dublin kills Twitchy, the smart investigators find evidences that he might be a maniac killer.

"Ring of Fear" is a weird and disappointing movie, with a forgettable story, many non-actors performing themselves and filmed in a circus. The result is a great circus show, but with a predictable weak plot and terrible performances. In the end, it is better off going to the circus than watching this flick. My vote is six.

Title (Brazil): "O Circo do Medo" ("The Circus of the Fear")
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10/10
Pretty Nifty Flick
XweAponX27 January 2007
I am not crazy about "Circus" Movies - As a child I was taken to Barnum and Bailey's "Three Ring Circus" and the seats were so high up and far away that I did not understand any of the activities going on. All I remember is a guy riding a bicycle that happened to be about 200 feet in the air. Maybe I am wrong about the hight, I was only 3 feet high myself: To me he was very high in the air. Unfortunately I was not excited about the experience, and shortly after, circuses changed radically from this image we are presented with in this films and other films like "Trapeze," "The Greatest Show on Earth," "The Flying Fontaine's" etc.

Maybe if I had been taken to a Clyde Beatty circus I would have felt differently. I did not see Barnum under any "Big Top" or any other kind of tent... The circus I was taken to was given in a large outside stadium: So as a child I never experienced that intimacy of the center ring, and after that I just never had the interest in the circus that most kids had at that time.

The actual star of this film is of course Clyde Beatty's circus: Do not be mistaken, all of the other things in this film are an excuse for this film to exist. And so, we have things like Pat O'Brien as the Manager of the Circus, "Twitchy" the drunk, O'Malley the obsessed murderer, and a thin plot of insanity, obsession, revenge, and detection: Enter Mike Hammer/Mickey Spillane.

Now as far as the performance of the main star of the film: I really do wish I had been brought to this circus instead of Barnum. I was entirely captivated by the acts that are shown. Clyde Beatty, who I remember from several films made in Africa, was a master, and I never knew that the iconic image of the Lion-Tamer, seen in cartoons and parodies and pictures and just about everywhere: That man with the chair in one hand and the whip in the other is based on Beatty. Someone mentioned that he had to shake himself to get an expression into the camera: I think that makes his character, which is himself, more believable.

Spillane is playing himself and not Hammer: Which is interesting because in one short scene where Spillane confronts O'Malley, O'Maley is calling Spillane "Mike" - I think perhaps the Mike Hammer character was going to be used, but had to be changed to Spillane himself for some reason. I think he is better in this flick than in "The Girl Hunters" - It says here that Jack Stang who appears also as himself is the detective on which Spillane based Hammer. When the two are together in a scene, the conversation flows like good 12 year old Scotch, it just seems natural. Most of Spillane lines and scenes are poses and one-liners, so there is not much for him to do: The main acting is left to the O'Malley character and the St. Dennis characters and O'Brien, who is great in this, even at his age.

This film follows the form: An introduction shows O'Malley's escape from the looney bin and threat to Beatty is set up. Then "The Circus Rolls Into Town" and they actually roll into town on a train, like circuses used to do until the late 50's.

Much of the first half hour of this film is establishing The Circus, and as I stated twice now, Beatty had a great circus: I wish I could have seen it. If anything, this film is an important documentary of the Clyde Beatty Circus.

As the detective story works it's way into the film, there are less and less "cuts" into regular circus life- There are about 15 minutes of Vignettes establishing the different people in the circus, what they are doing, and inserted into the vignettes are short flashes of the oncoming detective story, as if to say "Yes, this is a detective flick, here: Chew on this until we get to it" I have to say that this film comes together rather well. It's swell! Circus buffs will appreciate the circus aspect of this film, and Hammer buffs might like Spillane's bumbling about. Surprisingly, Paul Fix had a hand in the script: People might recognize him as the second doctor of the USS Enterprise, as seen in the Star Trek episode "Where No Man has None Before" (The first doctor was John Hoyt in "The Cage"). The final significant item is that this is one of John Wayne's "BatJac" films. Well, "The Dukes" Signature on this, just goes to show: Circus + Clyde Beatty + Mickey Spillane = Almost comical story in the unusualness of it's elements. Which is why I liked it... A lot.
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8/10
Brings back fond memories!!!
azcowboysingr27 October 2007
While the plot/acting/script was only mediocre, the footage of the actual Clyde Beatty Circus & its performers make this a better than average film. It is a very enjoyable film for this reason alone. The acting was not all that bad, just not top-grade. It is in color & cinemascope...rare for such low budget pictures. Rent it, I think you'll like it even if you never saw a circus under "the Big Top". As a child in the '40's, I got to see this circus many times, along with Barnum & Bailey's, so this brought back many fond childhood memories. What kid didn't want to be a lion tamer? 40 yrs later, I did get to try my hand at it...what a thrill even though I had too much fear of the cats to be successful...only did it twice. I did work several seasons with circuses as a trick shot, bullwhip & knife throwing artist...memories I will carry to my grave.
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Disappointing
Michael_Elliott28 February 2008
Ring of Fear (1954)

* 1/2 (out of 4)

Weird blend of action and horror as a maniac gets loose in Clyde Beatty's circus and soon bodies are starting to pile up so the manager (Pat O'Brien) calls in writer Mickey Spillane to solve the case. Both Beatty and Spillane play themselves and both give an equally bad performance, which I guess is to be expected. Spillane is really, really bad but at least he gave us some great stories in his real job. The film's only real highlights are the scenes with Beatty trying to tame a wild lion. These scenes here are pretty exciting but they work against the so called mystery that's suppose to be going on and at times it seems the mystery is completely forgotten about. O'Brien comes off pretty good but he's not given a lot to do. The 2.55:1 aspect ratio makes for some good circus scenes but for the most part this thing is dead on arrival.
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6/10
Better than its recent competition....
MartinHafer16 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In the history of bad Academy Award recipients, one that has stood out for me is "The Greatest Show on Earth" (directed by Cecil B. DeMille) winning the Best Picture award. While the film, like any other DeMille film, is BIG, the story itself (which, inexplicably won an Oscar as well) was dreadfully dull and clichéd. According to the wonderful review by bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York, "Ring of Fear" was an attempt by John Wayne's production company to cash in on the success of this 1952 film. However, while "Ring of Fear" is indeed derivative, it is, to me, a bit more entertaining than "The Greatest Show on Earth" for one major reason--the story is entertaining and gritty. Instead of a story about an innocent man hiding from the law dressed up as a clown (Jimmy Stewart), "Ring of Fear" has an escaped murderous schizophrenic hiding within the circus---and killing! Now THAT is gritty and doesn't rely one bit on the pathos of the DeMille film...thank goodness. Now this isn't saying that I loved "Ring of Fear'--just that it was fun to watch.

While I usually hate circus films, I decided to watch this film because of its very unusual job of casting. Clyde Beatty (practically an unknown man today--but quite famous in the 1940s and 50s) is a start in the film and was a rival to the Ringling Brothers circus and made his fame as a lion tamer. Additionally, Mickey Spillane (yes, THE Mickey Spillane) is on hand to play himself just like Beatty did--though why a guy who wrote the Mike Hammer books is in the film is anyone's guess. He certainly wasn't trained to investigate crimes, so he does what any writer in this situation would do--hire a professional to do this! In addition to these two, the film also stars Pat O'Brien who'd been through some pretty lean years following WWII--with fewer and fewer chances to act. While O'Brien was never a very subtle actor, he was enjoyable and lent some class to the film. While "The Greatest Show on Earth" sported more big-name actors like Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and Cornell Wilde, it featured lots of actors--not the real life acts like you see in this film--another plus in "Ring of Fear".

Overall, while this film is not a great film, the murderer is cool to watch (this psycho has style!) and the film never reaches the heights of extreme boredom I felt in the DeMille epic. It's worth seeing, but for my money if you must see a film about circuses, try Chaplin's "The Circus" first!
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7/10
Sabotage In The Circus!
zardoz-1319 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Circus movies appeared by the dozens in the 1950s. Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" was the first in 1952 with Charlton Heston and James Stewart. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis co-starred in "Three Ring Circus" in 1954. Steve Cochran and Lyle Bettger fought over Anne Baxter in "Carnival Act." in 1954. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis handled the high wire acts in "Trapeze" in 1956. John Wayne's production company Batjac must have decided to jump on the bandwagon in the middle of this fad with "Angel and the Badman" director James Edward Grant's "Ring of Fear," starring Clyde Beatty, Mickey Spillane, and Pat O'Brien. Interestingly enough, the Duke got under the big top about ten years later in Henry Hathaway's "Circus World." Anyway, this 1954, Cinemascope lensed, 93-minute, Warner color epic serves more as publicity for Clyde Beatty's Circus and author Mickey Spillane's novels than as a big-screen melodrama about the big-top.

Indeed, "Ring of Fear" scores points for authenticity because it takes place in a genuine circus. Moreover, Clyde Beatty was a real-life, world renowned animal trainer, and he has appeared as early before the cameras in 1933 in "The Big Cage" and most recently in a B-movie "Perils of the Jungle" in 1954.

Character actor Paul Fix of "The Rifleman," scenarist Phillip MacDonald of "The Body Snatcher," director James Edward Grant and an uncredited Mickey Spillane penned this predictable but entertaining melodrama about a clever, elusive homicidal maniac who does his best to sabotage the Clyde Beatty Circus, while two celebrity sleuths—Mickey Spillane and Jack Strang—on the premises try to expose him. Everything starts with an inmate at the State Mental Institution held in maximum security called Dublin O'Malley (Sean McClory of "Plunder of the Sun") who cannot open his mouth without lying about himself. O'Malley is attached to a photo of an aerial trapeze beauty that once loved him and is obsesses over his loss of her love. Three psychiatrists diagnose O'Malley as a hopeless case with homicidal tendencies who should never re-enter the real world.

No sooner has the unrepentant O'Malley left the conference room with the psychiatrists than he overpowers a guard, steals a truck, and careens off the premises with an all points police bulletin flashed out. O'Malley ditches the truck near the railroad and catches a ride on a freight train. He befriends a rail worker and then overpowers him. He swaps apparel with the railway worker and throws his unfortunate victim into the path of an oncoming train. No, you don't see the guy's body ground into hamburger by the train, but he died wearing O'Malley's clothing so that everybody believes that Dublin has bitten the dust! In just this short length of time, "Ring of Fear" is on the right track with a deadly, charismatic villain and Sean McClory—despite claims to the contrary that he chews the scenery—steals the show with his edgy but urban performance. The character of Dublin O'Malley overshadows all other characters in the movie.

Once upon a time Dublin O'Malley worked for Clyde Beatty and his circus. Beatty saved O'Malley's life when the big cats nearly ate him and everybody laughed at O'Malley and his close scrape with death. Humiliated by the incident, O'Malley has held a grudge against the world famous lion tamer since then, but Beatty doesn't know it. O'Malley left the Beatty circus after an affair with an aerialist, Valerie (Marian Carr of "Kiss Me Deadly") went sour and she married another trapeze artist, Armand St. Dennis (John Bromfield of "Manfish"), known for his fits of jealousy. When O'Malley returns to the circus, he contacts his old, alcoholic friend Twitchy (Emmett Lynn of "The Robe") and buys him a bottle. He tells Twitchy to tell anybody that he has seen him. O'Malley tampers with the tiger cage and a tiger gets out and circus manager (Pat O'Brien of "Angels with Dirty Faces") has to kill the $10-thousand tiger. O'Malley blackmails Twitchy into helping him because Twitchy has a secret that would land him on Death Row if the authorities ever found out about it. They soak Clyde's training ropes and a big cat breaks the rope and nearly kills Clyde. Before long everybody with the Clyde Beatty Circus is whispering about the 'jinx' on the circus. About that time, detective novelist Mickey Spillane shows up and not long afterward Jack Strang appears.

Again, Dublin O'Malley is the most interesting character in "Ring of Fear." The performances are about what you would expect from the celebrities involved. Clyde Beatty delivers his lines, doesn't bump into the lions, and isn't afraid to turn his back to the camera. In fact, Beatty spends most of his time with his back to the camera cracking his whip at the lions and tigers. Everybody else stands around and discusses matters. The ever-vigilant Spillane and Strang are around when O'Malley has his first fight with Armand. Later, O'Malley makes Twitchy sabotage Armand's high wire act, but Armand survives the murder attempt.

Poor Twitchy decides to inform on O'Malley, but he doesn't understand the depth of O'Malley's hate for Clyde Beatty. Pat O'Brien stands around and delivers lines, too, with no special significance. Of course, Batjac stock company player Pedro Gonzales Gonzalez-Gonzales is on hand for the inevitable comic relief. For example, he loses a box match with a kangaroo. The closest thing to a love interest is Marion Carr's Valerie, but she is already married and tries to fend off O'Malley. O'Malley's demise in a railway freight car at the end of the movie is his just comeuppance for his crimes.

"Ring of Fear" qualifies as an above-average thriller with a top-notch performance from Sean McClory as the villain. Spillane, Strang, and Beatty register as colorless heroes.
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7/10
Routine plot, but the real life circus atmosphere makes it worthwhile.
guanche2 February 2011
In some ways this is s standard "formula" mystery. Yet it's a very interesting and off beat film in other respects. A young Mickey Spillane; looking like a near clone of Sean Penn; plays himself as a rather inept detective.

The action takes place in the real Clyde Beatty Circus, where a homicidal maniac is on the loose. Clyde Beatty, who also plays himself, was perhaps the most skilled animal trainer of all time and in the 40s and 50s ran his own circus, a serious competitor to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. The best parts of the film (at least from my perspective) were closeups of him performing with lions and tigers, often several at a time. You can actually see the highly specific and technical body poses and behaviors he uses to control multiple animals that would love to tear him to pieces. A fascinating peek into the psyches of large carnivores.

Entertaining and quite out of the ordinary.
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