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Berserk (1967)

     At what point did things start going downhill for Joan Crawford‘s career? Was it the 60s that took their toll or age 60? I have mentioned before that Crawford aged well, as illustrated in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? but that did not stop her from being quite freaky looking in her later years. She also did a number of thrillers during this era, including the disappointing kids-in-danger story I Know What You Did and Strait-Jacket (Which will be reviewed soon). I have to admit, however, I am drawn to these movies because I know they are going to be tragedies, and who doesn’t like to see a mean, old star like Crawford flounder in a crappy script. Perhaps the greatest mistake for her appearance in Berserk was the insistence on those severe dark eyebrows contrasting against the blonde hair. Those brows have a life of their own.

     Berserk is not about freaky old Crawford, though. It instead is a question of whether Crawford is murdering circus folk. Gee, that sounds like a ridiculous premise. Crawford runs a circus traveling in Brittain where various attractions are being eliminated for some unknown reason. The first murder happens during the opening credits when the tight wire snaps and somehow manages to wrap around the walker’s throat, hanging him before the audience. What will give you a good laugh, however, is that as the man swings, cheery 60s music reminiscent of Charade floats along leaving one to question how he is supposed to feel about the gruesome act. Next up is a spike through the head and a woman being literally sawed in half. Producers must still have found some sex appeal in Crawford because the 62-year-old’s character carries on an affair with 37-year-old Ty Hardin. 

     Circuses must have been far more mainstream years ago because I generally consider them to be the things of nightmares and tired talent acts. Berserk is not all bad. The mystery is decent, but the characters are silly and it is hard to care about any of them. The diamond in the rough with this flick, however, are the what I assume to be legitimate circus acts interspersed among the drama. Amazing acrobatics and poodles who jump rope–what!?

     I would not discourage anyone from watching this if he has nothing better to do. It has a great look-how-the-mighty-have-fallen aspect to it that is great for a laugh. If you are in search of a good circus movie, however, go with The Greatest Show on Earth. It’s not the cheeriest thing in the world, but it won Best Picture.

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