Wednesday, July 19, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Ring of Fear (1954)

Plot: A psychotic war veteran seeks murderous revenge at the Clyde Beatty Circus.

Well, this is the most weird-ass movie I’ve seen in a while. An asylum inmate with a weird manner of speaking (I eventually figured out he was supposed to have a thick Irish accent) is appearing before a psychiatric review board. His appeal is denied, albeit not for any apparent good reason. However, this was 1954, so if three stuffy white guys say the patient is nuts, he must be. And sure enough, they’re right. He quickly escapes and knocks out a guy, dressing the fellow in his clothes and throwing him under a train. This, naturally, leads the authorities to believe that the escapee is dead.

Our antagonist is subsequently revealed to be one Dublin O’Malley. (Just to let you know, he’s the Irish guy I referred to earlier.) He’s soon skulking about the Clyde Beatty Circus, where he once worked. O’Malley—did I mention he was Irish?—has a beef against Beatty. Dublin—a Son of the Auld Sod, you know—is also obsessed with his old girlfriend, a trapeze artist now married another man, and mother of a cute young daughter.

Using a blackmailable old drunk named Twitchy (!) as a surrogate, O’Malley arranges for a death or two, and a couple of near misses. Beatty himself narrowly escapes a grisly demise when a doctored training rope parts and a tiger nearly gets him.

Beatty calls on his old friend, Mickey Spillane (!), playing ‘himself’ (!!). (Mr. Spillane passed away this week, so let's tip our porkpie hats to him.) Spillane, of course, was the author of the amazingly popular, not to mention lurid, Mike Hammer detective series. Indeed, Spillane’s next film role, nine years after this, was playing Hammer in The Girl Hunters. Given the porkpie hat and other affectations he employs here, it won’t surprise many to learn that there’s not much variance between the two performances.

O’Malley now officially appears at the circus, after the aforementioned incidents and thus removed from suspicion for them. He reclaims his old job—the current guy has an accident, presumably also O’Malley’s work—and Dublin continues to plot his revenge. Then we get a lot of…stuff. Lots of circus performance footage, Mike and a detective pal casting suspicious glances about, O’Malley freaking out his old girlfriend, etc.

I don’t want to blow the ending, but let’s just say that O’Malley is seen throughout the movie tormenting this one ill-natured tiger …oh. I guess that kind of blows the ending. Sorry.

What a bizarre movie. It pretty patently only exists because somebody thought, “Hey, it would be exciting, not to mention economical, to shoot a movie with Clyde Beatty’s circus as the backdrop!” That’s clearly where things started, and everything that followed was apparently considered a mere bunch of details. Just a bit over 90 minutes, the film is all over the map.

There’s at least a full half hour of circus stuff, including of course long segments of Beatty's admittedly amazing big cat act; occasional bits of O’Malley’s deviltry; some (comparatively restrained) ethnic buffoonery provided by Pedro Gonzolez, here playing the same sort of Lovable Mexican Comic Relief figure he assayed in the classic John Wayne movie Rio Bravo. (Ring of Fear, actually, was made by Batjac Productions, Wayne’s independent film company.)

The cast has quirks too. Aside from the “playing themselves” Beatty (stiff) and Spillane (eh, OK), Pat O’Brien shows up. O’Brien is best known for appearing opposite Jimmy Cagney in a bunch of classic gangster movies, and was last seen on these pages in Billy Jack Goes to Washington.

Since this was made in the ‘50s, lots of folks that appeared in ‘50s sci-fi movies are on hand. (This in the same way that seemingly every young actor or actress in the early ‘80s appeared in a slasher movie.)

· Sean McClory, who plays O’Malley, was Col. Kibbee in the giant ant epic Them!

· Marian Carr, who plays the object of O’Malley’s perverse affections, was the female lead of the dismal Lon Chaney Jr. flick The Indestructible Man.

· Her husband in the film is played by the beefy John Bromfield, star of Revenge of the Creature and Curucu, Beast of the Amazon.

· ‘50s sci-fi mainstay Kenneth Tobey (who, hey, also was in Billy Jack), sadly appears for but a minute or two. Mr. Tobey starred in The Thing from Another World (he was the Air Force officer hero), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, It Came from Beneath the Sea and The Vampire.


Things I Learned: If you run an asylum for the criminally insane, you shouldn’t let trucks park under open patient walkways.


Summation: If you ever wanted to see Clyde Beatty and Mickey Spillane hunting down a psycho-killer at the circus, this is the movie for you!

7 Comments:

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I actually saw this movie about five years ago, and reading your post brought back fond memories .. it is indeed very, very weird but, in its own way, also wonderful

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

It is indeed although magical to come across something this strenuously bizarre, much like finding a two-headed lamb or something of that nature.

 
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