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!
Let’s be honest: TROG is not a very good movie. It’s definitely not Joan Crawford’s best movie. It’s surely not director Freddie Francis’s best movie. Hell, it’s not even producer Herman Cohen’s best, and he’s responsible for some real bombs! TROG isn’t scary, or gruesome, or even so bad it’s good. It’s just kind of dumb, and it’s a sad end to Crawford’s great screen career.
Joan (in a blonde wig) plays anthropologist Dr. Brockton, who helps discover a troglodyte found living in an underground cave. The beast is half-man, half ape, but is really pretty stupid looking. Dr. Brockton thinks Trog is the Missing Link and begins to train him, feeding him fake looking fish and lizards, teaching him to roll a ball and play with a wind-up baby doll. Mommie Dearest, she’s not!! We also discover Trog likes classical music, but hates rock and roll!!
Meanwhile, there’s a local developer named Murdock (Michael Gough) who wants the creature destroyed so property values don’t go down. Allying himself with Brockton’s jealous colleague Dr. Selbourne, Murdock goes before a court of public inquiry to demand Trog be destroyed. But good Dr. Brockton makes an impassioned plea to preserve Trog, and the world’s top scientists are invited in to study it. American surgeon Dr. Warren (Robert Hutton of Invisible Invaders and They Came From Beyond Space) implants some weird gadget that let’s us see Trog’s memories. These memories are directly lifted from 1956’s THE ANIMAL WORLD, showing us dinosaurs created by special effects legends Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen (the best part of the film). Trog is taught speech, but before Brockton can continue, Murdock pulls an B&E on her institute and frees Trog. Trog responds by killing Murdock, then going on a rampage through the town, kidnaping a little girl that resembles his wind-up doll. The military are called in after Trog returns to his cave with the kid. Dr. Brockton defies the soldiers by going into the cave alone and convincing Trog to release the child. When they come out, the army goes in, and shoot down Trog in a hail of bullets, causing him to fall and get impaled on a stalagmite!
Joan’s attempt at a British accent comes and goes. You get the feeling watching her that she clearly knows she’s better than this nonsense, but presses on like a trouper. Trog is credited to British wrestler ‘Dazzler’ Joe Cornelius, and he should’ve stuck to the squared circle. Fans of Herman Cohen (are there really any?) will want to look for his Hitchcockian cameo as a bartender in the local pub. The scariest thing about this movie is blonde Joan’s eerie resemblance to Hillary Clinton. Now THAT’S frightening!!
Well, it’s time once again to get rid of some movies on my DVR so I can make room for more movies! Last night I had myself a mini-movie marathon watching four in a row (the fifth I’d already screened and jotted down some notes on it). So here, for your education and edification, are five films from five decades:
THE RETURN OF DR. X (Warner Brothers 1939; director Vincent Sherman)
Despite the title, this is not a sequel to 1932’s DOCTOR X starring Lionel Atwill. This one’s all about a reporter (Wayne Morris) and a doctor (Dennis Morgan) investigating a string of murders where the bodies have been drained of blood. Humphrey Bogart plays Dr. Quesne, alias the mad Dr. X, in pasty white make-up and a streak of white in his hair. Seems he’s been brought back from the dead by Dr. Flegg (John Litel) after being electrocuted and now needs human blood to survive. It’s no wonder Bogie hated this film, playing a role more suitable for Bela Lugosi in his Monogram days. Fun Fact: Dead End Kid/Bowery Boy Huntz Hall plays newsroom boy Pinky in a rare solo appearance.
Continue reading “CLEANING OUT THE DVR Pt 2: Five Films From Five Decades”
(second of a series)
Hammer Films Ltd. knew they were on to something with the release of 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The Gothic horror was box office gold on both sides of the Atlantic, and Hammer wasted no time finding a follow up. Reuniting CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN costars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee with director Terence Fisher, the company set its sights on giving the full Eastmancolor treatment to Bram Stoker’s immortal Count Dracula.
Continue reading “GODS OF THE HAMMER FILMS 2: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)”