Berserk (1967)


(director/writer: Jim O’Connolly; screenwriters: Herman Cohen/Aben Kandel; cinematographer: Desmond Dickinson; editor: Raymond Poulting; music: John Scott; cast: Joan Crawford (Monica Rivers), Ty Hardin (Frank Hawkins), Diana Dors (Matilda), Michael Gough (Dorando), Judy Geeson (Angela Rivers), Robert Hardy (Superintendent Brooks), Golda Casimir (Bearded Lady), Peter Burton (Gustavo), George Claydon (Bruno), Philip Madoc (Lazlo), Milton Reid (Strong Man), Thomas Cimarro (Gaspar); Runtime: 96; Columbia Pictures; 1967-UK)

“It was watchable only because Joan still commands attention on the screen.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joan Crawford is still sexy in her sixties walking around in a leotard, as the dramatic actress is reduced to taking schlocky parts in B-films towards the end of her career. Joan plays Monica Rivers, a cold-hearted owner of a traveling English circus beset by some grisly murders.

In the city of Leeds, Gaspar, the tightrope walker, is pronounced dead when the wire in his act breaks. The next day a brazen Frank Hawkins (Hardin) applies for the job. During his act he’s blindfolded when he walks the 60-feet high tightrope while below, instead of a net, there are steel bayonets pointing up at him. Frank mysteriously left Canada after being exonerated on a murder charge. The handsome Frank pursues the much older Monica and a romance that was more of a laffer than something believable develops.

The next murder takes place in Liverpool, as the circus business manager and sometimes romantic interest of Monica for the last 7 years, Dorando (Gough), gets a spike through his head. He wanted out of his business arrangement, but Monica insisted he stay till business improves. The circus now plays to full houses because of the circus deaths — which upsets some of the performers at how inhuman Monica acts.

Scotland Yard assigns Detective Superintendent Brooks (Hardy) to travel with the circus. Here he meets the bearded lady; the strongman, Bruno the clown; Gustavo the knife thrower; the lion tamer; and, the sultry Matilda (Dors) and her partner Lazlo. Matilda is outspoken in her hostility for Monica and tells everyone, including the Scotland Yard detective, that she believes Monica is committing the murders. During her act the killer loosened the screws to her contraption and she’s sawed in half.

The next surprise comes when Monica’s teenager daughter Angela (Geeson) joins the circus as part of Gustavo’s knife throwing act, after she was booted out of an exclusive boarding school. Monica’s hubby was killed in a circus accident 6 years ago, and the teen is still upset.

The film catches the authentic circus ambiance as the viewer watches a full circus routine, but it has a flat serial killer story to tell. It relies on the surprise at who the murderer is to hold one’s attention, but when discovered who it is — it is really questionable if that person could have done the murders. This film not only had poor dialogue but huge plot-holes. It was watchable only because Joan still commands attention on the screen, and when she’s not sneaking in a promo for Pepsi onscreen — she’s acting bitchy.