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Monica Rivers is the owner and ringmaster of a traveling circus, and she'll stop at nothing to draw bigger audiences. When a series of mysterious murders begins to occur and some of her performers die gruesomely, her profits soar. She hires high-wire walker Frank Hawkins, impressed by the handsome and muscular young man. They begin an affair which arouses her previous lover Durando's jealousy. When Durando is found dead shortly afterward, the other performers begin to take alarm, as a mysterious killer is obviously loose in their midst. Many suspect Monica herself of the killings, especially Matilda, who has set her sights on Monica's new lover. At this point, Monica's unruly, sixteen-year-old daughter Angela is expelled from school for being incorrigible, and Monica is forced to take her into the circus, allowing her to become the partner of knife-thrower Gustavo. Meanwhile, the dead bodies continue to pile up... Written by
Entertaining but implausible circus murder mystery...
Joan Crawford's fans will appreciate her foray into yet another horror show, this time as the feisty, hard-edged manager of a traveling circus show suddenly burdened with murders of several circus members. The careful photography cannot hide the fact that Crawford has aged considerably--and consequently, although her figure is still trim, her scenes with hunky Ty Hardin have an unpleasant and unbelievable quality about them.
The plot is strictly standard fare--who is responsible for the series of gruesome murders? For awhile, it looks like Joan herself is probably the wicked one--and there are a few other red herrings to make you think you know who did it. When the ending is revealed, in a climactic thunderstorm, it comes as a distinct letdown although a surprise, the reason being the guilty one is given no substance in the plot. The killer's identity seems highly implausible which makes the ending seem as though it has been merely tacked on to provide a final scene.
As these sort of things go, BERSERK isn't a bad way to pass the time on a low-budget mystery. The technicolor is good, Joan's costumes are fantastic, her shapely legs are on almost constant display and she uses her haughty manner to great effect. The details of circus life are smoothly integrated into the story and some of the animal acts are amusing--but none of the characters have any depth. Ty Hardin makes a handsome and arrogant stud whose daredevil highwire act provides some high moments of suspense as he performs over a row of spikes below. Like Crawford, he's given ample opportunities to show off his handsome physique.
Diana Dors makes the most of her role as an outspoken tart and all of the supporting performances are competent enough--Michael Gough, Judy Geeson and Robert Hardy. Certainly worth a view if you're a Crawford fan. The dialogue is ripe with campy one-liners.
Trivia note: The plot is slightly reminiscent of Barbara Stanwyck's LADY OF BURLESQUE where a series of backstage murders takes place with a slim plot involving a jealous performer.
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