Last year I looked at Joan Crawford’s final film TROG during “Halloween Havoc” month, where she played an anthropologist. This time around, Joan stars in her first movie for schlockmeister Herman Cohen, BERSERK, in which she’s in a more believable role as a circus owner/ringmaster whose big top is plagued by a series of gruesome murders.
The film starts off with the grisly death of high wire artist Gaspar the Great, whose tightrope breaks, causing him to die from hanging. Frank Hawkins, better known as The Magnificent Hawkins, arrives soon after and replaces Gaspar with his own death-defying act, walking the tightrope while blindfolded over a row of steel spikes. Circus owner Monica Rivers loves the publicity from Gaspar’s demise, which turns off her lover/business partner Durando. Soon Monica takes up with Frank, and Durando winds up with a spike driven through his head!
The circus acts think there’s a madman among them and begin accusing one another. Buxom blonde Matilda, half of a magic act, points the finger directly at Monica. Detective Brooks of Scotland Yard is assigned to travel along with the circus and investigate the murders, questioning everyone. Monica’s daughter Angela joins the troupe after she’s expelled from boarding school, and she becomes part of a knife-throwing act. Matilda winds up getting buzzsawn in half by her magician partner. Now tensions run high as the circus is about to open in London, with a mad killer lurking under the big top.
BERSERK is better than TROG, but just barely. The romance between the sixtyish Crawford and thirtyish Ty Hardin (as Frank) isn’t very plausible, but then neither is Hardin as an actor. The former star of TV western BRONCO was more comfortable in the saddle than straddling a tightrope. Michael Gough (Durando) works well with Joan; their scenes together are all too brief. Judy Geeson plays daughter Angela, fresh off her success in TO SIR WITH LOVE. And British sexpot Diana Dors is at her trampy best as Matilda.
But the good cast just can’t defeat the screenplay by Cohen and Aben Kandel. The main problem is the terrible dialog, sinking what could’ve been a good little thriller. The circus acts shown are to pad the film’s running time; they’re fun to watch but still padding. Director Jim O’Connolly ( VALLEY OF GWANGI ) gives the film proper pacing and suspense, but again it’s the script that sinks BERSERK. Producer Cohen should’ve fired writer Cohen and got somebody who could write better dialog. As it stands, BERSERK is an interesting but unsuccessful movie that Joan Crawford fans will enjoy. For the rest of the world, it’s an okay little murder tale… at least it’s better than TROG!