Monday, April 2, 2012
Berserk (1967) *
Director: Jim O'Connolly
Screenplay: Herman Cohen, Aben Kandel
Cast: Joan Crawford, Ty Hardin, Michael Gough, Judy Geeson, Diana Dors, Robert Hardy, Geoffrey Keen, Philip Madoc, Ambrosine Phillpotts
And berserk it most assuredly is: a demented potboiler about a black-gloved psycho offing the acts at Joan Crawford's circus during the show, with ticket sales rising every time as the punters come back hoping for a repeat performance.
It's easily the better of Joan's collaborations with producer Herman Cohen, and along with Horrors of the Black Museum probably Cohen's most sheerly entertaining film, the absence of men in gorilla suits notwithstanding.
Though she looks a bit like Franz Liszt in the slightly embarrassing scenes where she has her hair down and Ty Hardin has to pretend to be madly in love with her, there's no denying Joan looks sensational for a woman of 61 in the big top sequences: her legs are still a knockout in tights. It's probably the least demeaning of her end-of-career horror roles: she has loads of well-tailored costumes, and the role is swaggering and brassy and non-camp. According to Cohen the role was originally written for a man, then hastily rewritten (though not much, I'll warrant) when Joanie stepped in. It is a star part, just not in a star movie.
But the film itself offers myriad other delights for connoisseurs, including the once in a lifetime casting of Joan, Diana Dors and Judy Geeson as the three-generational female leads, Robert Hardy as a foppish Scotland Yard detective accidentally stepping in elephant shit, Michael Gough having a tent peg hammered through the back of his head and out the front while he's standing up (just one of the film's wildly inventive and physically impossible murder highlights), Philip Madoc sawing Diana Dors in half for real (another one), a song and dance number from the circus freaks, and a full performance from Phyllis Allan and her intelligent poodles.
Though the parade of real circus acts shown in full tends to slow it down a little in the second half, the film is good guilty fun, and with a genuinely surprising villain.