Berserk! is a 1967 British Technicolor thriller film starring Joan CrawfordTy Hardin, and Judy Geeson in a macabre mother and daughter tale about a circus plagued with murders. The screenplay was written by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel, and the film directed by Jim O'ConnollyBerserk! marks Crawford's penultimate big-screen appearance.

Plot and cast[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) and Dorando (Michael Gough) own a travelling English circus. Monica acts as the ringmistress, and Dorando is the business manager.

When Gaspar the Great falls to his death, it appears that his tightrope might have been purposely weakened. Monica's unemotional reaction to the tragedy alarms Dorando. When she suggests it will be good for business, he asks her to buy him out, which she refuses to do. Monica hires a new high-wire walker, Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin). Not only is he handsome, he is daring as he does his act over a carpet of sharp bayonets. Monica is impressed, especially by his physical appearance. Shortly after an argument with Monica, Dorando is found gruesomely murdered. Suspicion of Monica's guilt grows and Frank in particular suspects her as he saw her leaving Dorando's trailer before Dorando was discovered. He confronts Monica with this information, demanding a share in the circus for his silence.

Monica's daughter, Angela (Judy Geeson), having been expelled from school, shows up at the circus. Not knowing what to do with her unruly daughter, Monica pairs her with Gustavo the knife thrower (Peter Burton). Another of the circus members is Matilda (Diana Dors) who attempts to seduce Frank, which Monica discovers. During Matilda's act, sawing-a-woman-in-half, there is a malfunction in the equipment and she is killed. During his high-wire act, Frank falls onto the bayonets and is killed. It was not an accident. Angela was seen throwing a knife into him before he fell. Then she confesses she has hated her mother for years as a result of being ignored, and has been "removing" those who take up her mother's time. She then unsuccessfully tries to kill her mother. As Angela attempts to escape, she is electrocuted by an exposed wire during a rainstorm. Monica sobs inconsolably over her daughter's body.

Cast[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Reception[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Howard Thompson gave the film a mostly negative review in The New York Times, comparing it unfavorably to Circus of Horrors, but also commented, "It's also hard to make a hopeless movie with a circus background and sawdust aroma. This is the one solid thing the picture has going for it—the intriguing workaday routine of circus folk and some good, spangly ring acts, all handsomely conveyed in excellent color photography. And under the reasonable direction of Jim O'Connolly, the film does project a kind of defiant suspense that dares you not to sit there, see who gets it next and, finally, why." He goes on to state that Crawford " professional as usual and certainly the shapeliest ringmaster ever to handle a ring microphone."[2]

Frank Leyendecker in Greater Amusements wrote, "Joan Crawford gives authority and extreme conviction to the colorful role of a circus owner and ringmaster...she consistently rises above the highly melodramatic, yet exploitable, material."

Lawrence Quirk wrote in Hollywood Screen Parade, "[Crawford] is all over the picture, radiant, forceful, authoritative, a genuine movie star whose appeal never diminishes."[3]

Box Office[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Box office receipts for Berserk were considerable.[4] In North America, the film grossed more than $1,100,000 and ranked #85 on Variety's list of top money makers of 1968.[5] Box office receipts overseas nearly doubled that amount, coming in at $2,095,000.[6] This made Berserk the most successful film Herman Cohen ever produced.[7]

DVD release[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Berserk! was released on Region 1 DVD on September 6, 2011 from Columbia Classics DVD Collection. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release, available online through Warner Archive Collection and ClassicFlix and only in the US.

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