Boy do I love this woman.
Look, I know that Joan Crawford was probably not the best human being to ever sashay across this planet. But while her reputation may have been irrevocably damaged by wire hangers and rose gardens, one can’t deny that the woman commanded the kind of screen presence that makes you want to pick up a cigarette, pour some scotch on those rocks, take a sip, lean back, and say, “They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
Then you quickly eat some cake and brush your teeth because cigarettes and scotch are horrible things.
Quick Plot: Monica Rivers is the ringmaster and co-owner of a struggling circus because cinema has never known a circus that wasn’t struggling. One night, her popular tightrope walker meets a rather unfortunate and grisly fate, toppling to his death as onlookers chow down on peanuts and cigarettes (ah, the ‘60s).
The good news is that a circus that puts out a good accident/possible homicide experiences a huge boost in ticket sales. Business, you see, never changes.
It doesn’t take long for The Great Rivers Circus to double down with murder, this time taking down Monica’s stuffy co-owner. The culprit remains a mystery, but a solid batch of suspects are introduced. Among them:
Frank Hawkins, a young tightrope performer who shows up just after the initial death to show off his skills. Also, this twentysomething hunk pretty immediately puts his moves on the sixtysomething Monica because, duh, she’s Joan F*cking Crawford
Matilda, the bitter blond magician’s assistant who seems a little too eager to shine suspicion on her employer
Bruno, the loyal dwarf who seems to resent anyone that disagrees with the fabulous Monica
Angela, Monica’s daughter recently expelled from a posh private school (yes, the Mommie Dearest similarities are not unimportant)
Plus a whole gaggle of bearded ladies, strong men, clowns, lion wranglers, and other circus folk, sometimes singing straight at the camera with a loyal tuba backup.
Much like Strait-Jacket, Berserk! plays out like a mystery peppered with camp. In this case, said camp comes courtesy of some pretty glorious fixings. We’re talking showgirls in jumpsuits being stepped over by a giant elephant!
A tightrope walker in tight silver pants wearing a bag over his head as he passes over a row of bayonets.
|Gloriously tight silver pants|
A poodle parade led by a star!
Best of all, 61 years young Joan Crawford effortlessly casting a spell on her much younger paramour (and the film never mentioning their age difference).
The final reveal--which I won’t spoil--gets even juicier, even if it feels more than a little ridiculous. That’s a good thing, especially considering director Jim O’Connolly would later NOT do a good thing by making a horribly boring movie about Joan Crawford bonding with a Bigfoot-ish thing.
Thankfully, Berserk! is no Trog. I don’t know that the world could survive another Trog.
Instead, Berserk! is just FUN. Poodle parade fun! Sawing a woman in half in front of children fun! Well-timed lightning saving the day fun! The appeal is simply limitless.
It’s not just that Joan Crawford is a screen goddess. It’s that she clearly cared about Berserk!, as silly as it may be. Not only did Crawford provide her own (fabulous) wardrobe, she also gives a committed, cheeky performance in a film that’s a fairly far cry from Mildred Pierce
Boy is that some well-timed lightning!
A circus isn't a charm school!
Lions are quite sensitive
The French Revolution could have been avoided if Louis XVI partied like Joan Crawford
The Winning Line
“She’s attractive. In a common sort of way.”
Could anyone say this with the same punch as Miss C?
Berserk! is no Baby Jane, but boy is it a good time. Fans of the circus will get to see circus tricks!
Fans of fit men in tight silver pants get to watch a fit man walk a tightrope in tight silver pants!
Fans of Joan Crawford get to see her sexy gams!