At The Circus Blogathon
Beginning his circus career in the 1920s, Clyde Beatty was a legendary animal trainer, ran a circus that bore his name and had his own radio and television shows. Mickey Spillane, the creator of Mike Hammer, was one of America’s best known mystery writers and an occasional actor. Why not team them up in a movie? It can’t miss!
Directed by James Edward Grant and an uncredited William A. Wellman [A Star is Born (1937)], the result is Ring of Fear (1954). It’s far better than most movies featuring celebrity non-actors. Beatty and Spillane play themselves, adding color and authenticity. Rugged character actor Sean McClory plays the lead. He’s Dublin O’Malley, a convict with a severe anger management problem.
The parole board turns him down so he literally takes the matter into his own hands. On the lam, he goes back to what he knows best, the circus!
After killing a good Samaritan for his clothes, Dublin joins the Clyde Beatty Circus. When he worked for him earlier, Clyde laughed when he was afraid of the big cats. Dublin held the grudge during his prison stay and vows revenge. To make matters worse, his ex-wife Valerie (Marian Carr) is working a high wire act with her new man (John Bromfield).
It works as escapist entertainment which isn’t a bad thing after 2016’s bruising political campaign. It’s one of a few noir films made during the classic era that have circus or carnival trappings. Nightmare Alley is another, covered in our blogathon by Cinema Cities
Pat O’Brien is the owner of the circus. This B movie was just a late career paycheck, but he appears to take his limited role seriously enough. Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez [Rio Bravo (1959)] adds comic relief and a serenade while strumming a guitar. He brushes off racist insults from his bosses with humor. It’s uncomfortable at times but reflects the era.
We’ve also evolved in how we think about animals in captivity. However, we can appreciate this movie as a period piece from a very different time.