For years, anime fans have told me, "You need to watch Berserk! It's brilliant and bloody, no holds barred action!" Why anime fans are so hung up on a 1967 Joan Crawford movie, I don't know, but Wednesday night I did watch Berserk! and found it was a film with an impressively high body count, some of the victims murdered pretty gruesomely. The film is almost entirely devoid of subtext or any thematic intention with one of the most arbitrary twist endings I've ever seen in a movie. But I enjoyed it.
Crawford plays Monica Rivers, the ringmistress and part owner of a travelling circus in England. Michael Gough plays her business partner, Dorando, who's really effectively incensed by Monica's callous reaction to the death of a tightrope walker at the beginning of the film. It's not long before Gough's character becomes the second victim which naturally makes Monica the prime suspect.
It would have been nice if Gough had had more to do but I would have traded all of his screen time for more Diana Dors who has a small part as Matilda, a magician's assistant.
Dors, who was 35 at the time, was considered no longer suitable for the sexy leading lady role, something I vehemently disagree with but which she apparently took in stride. But it makes it particularly ironic that this movie stars Joan Crawford, one of the great anomalies of Hollywood history, who here, in a movie that did well at the box office, was playing the woman every man in the film wanted at the age of 63. Of course, she fought bitterly hard to get those kinds of roles. And she is really good in this--calculating and yet vulnerable, a good person to study as you find yourself wondering if she's the killer or if she's to be the final victim.
But if you're looking for any kind of solid story about Monica or Matilda or anyone, look for another movie, because beyond establishing that a lot of guys want to sleep with Monica, that Matilda is jealous of her, and that several people think Monica's the killer, not much happens until the end of the film when the killer's revealed and the credits role. We then don't get to spend any time with any of the characters reacting to the revelation.
The meandering quality of the story is appropriately accompanied by footage of acts by the actual circus performers who participated in the film. They're pretty amazing, as much as I deplore the abominable treatment the elephants, horses, and lions probably suffered. My favourite was a trapeze act where an upside-down man holds a rope in his teeth while at the other end a woman hangs spinning in a foetal position. Now those are some jaw muscles.