Lately, I've had an inexplicable craving to watch circus movies. As if catering to the culinary whims of an expectant mother, the DVD gods deposited 1954's Ring of Fear on FFC's doorstep yesterday afternoon. I've long been curious about this film, if only because it's excerpted repeatedly during the lion tamer segments of Errol Morris' Fast, Cheap & Out of Control. One of Paramount's recent Batjac acquisitions, the picture looks and sounds better in its home video debut than those clips led one to expect, although Warnercolor sucks in any medium.
Ring of Fear's narrative is obviously a pretext for shooting the Big Top in Cinemascope (initially, it was going to be in 3-D), which co-scenarists Paul Fix, Philip MacDonald, and James Edward Grant (who also directed) evidently interpreted as permission to experiment. The result is a groundbreakingly post-modern but ultimately ridiculous (and ridiculously insensitive) thriller that de-DeMille-ifies The Greatest Show on Earth. Sean McClory (above left) stars as Dublin O'Malley, a WWII vet who returns to his post as Director of the Clyde Beatty Circus after making a violent escape from the loony bin. Animal trainer Beatty plays himself, as does pulp novelist Mickey Spillane, who's ostensibly there to research a piece on carny life but of course assumes the role of detective once Dublin's homicidal urges start getting the best of him. Taking its quasi-documentary approach into account, Ring of Fear inspires an alarming amount of schadenfreude; Dublin, the most unambiguous psychotic this side of Jason Voorhees (he really might as well be in monster makeup), is pitted against such cowards--who'd rather attribute the recent string of unlikely deaths to a jinx than implicate Dublin--that you finally root for their comeuppance. Oddly, however, the nihilistic treatment of Dublin himself is far more disconcerting: while he's no doubt meant to stand for the natural disaster that always threatens to level the circus in these movies (his victims, the standard collateral damage), Dublin is, unfortunately, given so much backstory that Ring of Fear just fosters unnecessary paranoia towards veterans and the mentally ill. Then there's Gonzalez-Gonzales, the Latino Mantan Moreland, who unlike Spillane isn't allowed a scrap of dignity in caricaturing himself. (This Pedro Gonzales has no concept of time--"...Every day, I give you $1, and in one million days I will have $1 million!"--and gets his ass kicked by a kangaroo in boxing gloves.) The fact that he emerges from Dublin's reign of terror unscathed seems only to say that ignorance is bliss.
What are your favourite entries in the genre?
Potsie tries to stop Richie from finding out a secret about Fonzie that could spell the end of Arnold's on tonight's episode of The Da Vinci Code.
Un Film de Brett Ratner: X-Men: The Last Stand.