Berserk, 1967

 

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A British thriller set in a circus, which has traces of gialli, Berserk is far more tame than both the title and the setting promise. Joan Crawford stars as Monica Rivers, the owner and ringmistress of a travelling circus in England. Micheal Gough plays Dorando, the co-owner and business manager of the circus. Other stars include Diana Dors as one half of a magic act, and Judy Geeson as Rivers’ daughter, Angela.

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The circus’s tightrope walker, Gaspard the Great, falls to his death but it appears to be more than an unfortunate accident. Frank Hawkins, played by Ty Hardin, joins the circus as the new high-walker. After this, murder plagues the circus. At first, Rivers mines the deaths, knowing they’ll draw in more crowds, but eventually even she is disturbed by the gruesome murders.

The biggest issue with Berserk seems to be that it doesn’t know what kind of film it is. Yes, it’s certainly a thriller but the moodiness and grim deaths interspersed by dancing elephants, prancing poodles and an awkward, bizarre song make it tonally inconsistent.

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This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact tonal shifts can heighten discomfort in this sort of film, but the circus performances go on for too long (not to mention being uncomfortable to watch for someone who hates animal circuses), though they are beautifully photographed and the song gave me too much secondhand embarrassment (but it’s strangeness fits far better with the film than the glossy performances). It feels a little too mish-mash-y.

The killer’s reveal is also quite anticlimactic, which is always disappointing in a murder mystery type story.

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But Joan Crawford is fabulous and looks amazing in her Ringmistress getup. She, unsurprisingly, carries the film with a commanding performance that elevates this above the hammy mess* it could’ve been without her. That’s not to say her performance is restrained but she has the acting chops to make the role believable.

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It has its merits, and it’s not the worst way to spend 90 or so minutes, but it could have been so much more!

 

 

*Though I do love me a hammy mess!

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TV Tuesday: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Today I’m debuting a new feature post series: TV Tuesdays. I love TV as much as I love cinema, though my taste in television is far more narrow than it is in movies. I’m going to use this feature to look at different aspects of shows: a particular episode I love, a miniseries, maybe a summary of a whole show, a tribute to a particular character, looking at the design and what-not. Anything that takes my fancy, really. Today, it’s more of a general look.

For the inaugural post I’m going to focus on a ’60s show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., to go along with my Sixties September challenge.

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This is actually my third time trying to watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (MFU). The first time I got through one and a half seasons but lost steam and then forgot everything I watched. So, I tried again and didn’t get very far. About a month ago, I became determined to finally get through it. (Since starting this post I’ve strayed back to murder mysteries as I was feeling quite tired and MFU requires a lot more energy/concentration).

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it  – quite the contrary – but ’60s shows (aside from Star Trek and comedies) seem a lot more difficult for me to watch. I think this is largely because, at least in the case of MFU, there’s not as much dialogue and so I have to pay more attention than I normally do with modern shows. A lot happens through action, which I love, but it means re-training myself to leave my phone alone and watch the TV. But MFU is worth it.

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This show has nearly everything I could want: witty banter, handsome men, cute frocks, strong, interesting women, wacky escapades, diabolical schemes and, of course, charming, entertaining spies. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are just great characters that I love spending timing with.

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I’d forgotten in the intervening years since first watching this, is how funny it is. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum have great comic timing – they also, naturally, have great chemistry, which has been one of the enduring appeals of the show.

One of the other most appealing features, and likely one of the reasons there’s such a large female fanbase, is the way everyday women are often part of the story. They’re brought in by our favourite agents, who show a lot of faith in their ability to help. Using everyday people – both men and women – as guest characters was a clever way to get people watching at home involved in the show. They could, and we still can, imagine themselves in their places – that they, too, could help Agents Solo and Kuryakin save the world! And still get to go home at the end of the day.

I also really like how the fight scenes are choreographed. They’re a little more rough and tumble than I’m used to in older stuff. Sure, the stunt doubles are laughingly easy to spot but it’s part of the charm and the fights themselves fit the tone of the show.

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It’s fun seeing guest stars who would go on to become famous for their own shows or movies (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, a very young Kurt Russell, Tura Satana in a fabulous cow-print coat) but even those I didn’t recognise have been great to watch. (Actually I’ve had quite a lot of fun spotting ‘crossover’ (guest) actors between this and Star Trek, including James Doohan aka Scotty, Ricardo Montalban aka Khan, and Jill Ireland, McCallum’s wife, who was Leila in the TOS episode “This Side of Paradise”).

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So far, this time through, my favourite episodes are: “The Dove Affair”, “The Finny Foot Affair”, “The Project Strigas Affair” (Shatner! Nimoy!) and maybe “The Quadripartite Affair”. But they’re all great. This show is full of fun romps, sarcastic quips, swanky soirees and sparkling gowns, and courageous capers. What could be better than that? I’m looking forward to delving back into more episodes and, hopefully, finally finishing the show.