“This circus is jinxed! It’s becoming a nightmare — I keep wondering and thinking, who’s next?”
A rash of gruesome murders at a circus owned by ringleader Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) brings a Scotland Yard detective (Robert Hardy) onto the scene to investigate.
This disappointing murder mystery — best known for starring a well-preserved 63-year-old Joan Crawford — ultimately provides few genuine thrills, and fails to live up to its campy potential. While Crawford is clearly enjoying playing yet another “strong female” — an independent woman who easily attracts and beds men of all ages — the script simply doesn’t do her character justice. And though the identity of the serial killer is nearly impossible to guess, this is less a function of cleverly written suspense than of outright improbability; revelations are tossed out in the final scenes of the movie which make little sense given what’s come before.
Unlike in Tod Browning’s masterful Freaks (1932), the scenes in this film involving circus “misfits” — including a bearded lady, a “skeletal man” (whose body is never shown!), and a midget — are exploitative and badly written. In addition, the occasional scenes showing various circus animal acts go on too long, and don’t fit in with the thrust of the narrative; given that this is a story about backstage machinations, we really don’t need to see so much of the circus itself — though I’ll guiltily admit that the poodle act was my favorite scene in the entire film…
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Still-sexy Joan Crawford, doing her best in a sub-par movie
- The circus poodle act — ultimately more interesting than the rest of the film!
No. I’m not sure why Peary lists this as a “must see” in the back of his book — I’m assuming it’s because of Crawford’s late-life performance, but you’re better off watching her in true camp classics such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) or Strait-Jacket (1964).