Monday, May 25, 2015


Fans of late-career Joan Crawford (and who isn’t?) are sure to relish the sight of 61-year-old La Mommie Dearest as the mannish owner and ringmaster of a traveling circus. While juggling the books and two younger lovers (“I just may let you tuck me in tonight!” she threatens to one) performers in her employ fall victim to gruesome, far-fetched fatalities. Similarly, variety show fans nostalgic for the bygone days when animal acts ruled primetime TV variety programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace, are sure to get a vaudeville kick out of Berserk!'s interminable parade of capering horses, indifferent lions, playful elephants, and intelligent poodles. All used to pad out the film's already meager 96-minute running time.

But horror fans finding Berserk! to be a little tame and slow-moving by American Horror Story: Freak Show standards would do well to turn a viewing of this circus-set whodunit into a drinking game. As Crawford was still on the Board of Directors of Pepsi-Cola at the time this was made, so the film fairly overflows with Pepsi-related product placement. May I suggest taking a shot of 100-Proof vodka (Crawford’s much-preferred beverage of choice) every time there’s a Pepsi sighting?

Or perhaps you can take a swig each time a mysterious band of shadow materializes out of nowhere to provide our star with dramatic framing and flattering neck shade whenever in medium shot or closeup. But be aware, should you choose the latter option, you’re likely to find yourself plastered to the gills long before To Sir, With Love’s Judy Geeson makes her mid-film appearance as yet another in Joan Crawford’s long procession of troublesome onscreen/offscreen daughters.
Joan Crawford as Monica Rivers  
"We're running a circus, not a charm school!"
Ty Hardin as Frank Hawkins
"In this world, you only get what you deserve. No more, no less."
Judy Geeson as Angela Rivers
"I was shunted around from place to place like a piece of luggage with the wrong address pasted on it!" 
Michael Gough as Albert Dorando
"How can you be so cold-blooded?"
Diana Dors as Matilda
"The next time she puts her arms around you, make sure those lovely hands aren't carrying a knife!"

Although Berserk! (I’m never going to be able to keep up this exclamation point thing) is often lumped together with other entries in the popular What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? hag-horror/psycho-biddy genre; Joan Crawford’s dedication to being the world’s most glamorous, well-turned-out circus proprietress qualifies it more as a gilt-edged example of Grand Dame Guignol. Dressed in a fashion parade of vividly monochromatic cocktail suits (from milady’s own closet, may I add), Crawford magisterially strides about the horse and elephant dung-covered circus grounds‒head held aristocratically aloft, balancing a towering, tightly-braided bun‒barking out orders and wearing the daintiest of impractical, strappy high-heel sandals.
Britain's Billy Smart Circus plays the role of Berserk's The Great Rivers Circus
Smart's Circus (note the BS emblems) was also used in 1960s similar Circus of Horrors

In contrast to the usual abasement heaped upon the typical hagsploitation heroine, every effort in Berserk! is made to make Crawford look good. Not only is she the center of the drama and propels the narrative, but she's also the only character afforded an active love life or much in the way of a backstory ("Long ago I lost the capacity to love..." she intones at one point; her words instantly making me aware of the weight of my eyelids). Unfortunately, due to the film’s obviously sparse budget and perhaps an over-determination on the filmmakers’ part to make its sexagenarian leading lady’s age into a non-issue (one of the more conspicuous Crawford-mandated script additions is a character voicing the opinion, "Your mother will never grow old, she has the gift of eternal youth!" ), the sheer amount of attention paid to showcasing Crawford’s three-ring matronly glamour actually results in a kind of inverse-derogation. 
"Find your happiest colors - the ones that make you feel good."
Joan Crawford - My Way of Life 1971
Joan in her happy colors (given her expression, I guess that's something we'll have to take her word for)

Even if you'd never seen a movie before in your life, you could probably guess the plot of Berserk from its setting alone. A traveling circus plagued by a series of grisly murders finds the deaths have a gruesome side-effect: a boost in attendance. This turn of events means the shadow of suspicion falls (usually across the neck) upon hard-as-nails, cool-as-a-cucumber circus owner, Monica Rivers (Crawford). Especially since, some six years prior, Monica’s husband died in a mysterious trapeze accident. Since that time, Monica has been “comforted” by dour-faced business partner Albert Dorando (Gough). Meanwhile, Monica's only child, Angela (Geeson), has been stowed away at a hoity-toity boarding school.

As the body count rises, within the ranks of the circus’ motley troupe of performers, low levels of British panic reigns, motives are plentiful, and red herrings abound. Figuring prominently amongst those most likely to have "dunit" are Bruno (George Claydon), the circus' dwarf clown/toady who’s a tad over-enamored of his leggy employer. Then there’s brassy Matilda (Dors), the in-your-face, peroxided two-thirds of a sawing-a-woman-in-half illusionist act. She's skeptical of Monica from the start, but this may have more to do with Monica's habit of addressing Matilda as "You slut!”. And finally, there's the circus's most recent arrival, high-wire walker Frank Hawkins (Hardin); a six-foot-two hunk of flavorless beefcake with a sketchy past, hair-trigger temper, and a thing for women old enough to be his mother. Especially if they own their own circus.
Mommie Likes
The lack of urgency displayed by the veddy-British investigating detective in the case (Robert Hardy) mirrors that of Berserk!'s director Jim O’ Connolly.  O' Connolly somehow imagines Berserk’s tepid tension and sluggish suspense as engaging enough to withstand the mood-killing interjection of several adorable animal acts (in their entirety!) and a comic musical interlude.
Still, thanks to Joan Crawford’s sometimes baffling acting choices (“You’re crrrrazy!”) and the always-welcome presence of British bombshell Diana Dors, Berserk!’s 40-minutes of plot padded out to 96-minutes of movie flows painlessly enough to its abrupt, highly-preposterous conclusion. One in which the surprise-reveal killer has to utter the great-granddaddy of unutterable, self-expository outbursts:
“Kill! Kill! Kill! That’s all I have inside me!” 
And if you think that line reads ridiculous, wait until you hear someone actually try to deliver it with a modicum of sincerity.
Trog co-star Michael Gough braces himself while a frisky Joan Crawford moves in for the kill. 
As a side note, is there anything more terrifying than a clown painting?

Berserk! Began life as Circus of Terror and Circus of Blood before Crawford vetoed those crude, cut-to-the-chase options in favor of the infinitely more marketable, Psycho-friendly single name tag (see: HomicidalHysteriaRepulsionParanoiac, and Fanatic [the British title for Tallulah Bankhead’s loony masterwork, Die, Die My Darling!]). 
As Crawford’s first film in a two-picture deal arranged by personal friend/producer Herman Cohen (the man who gave the world I Was a Teenage Werewolf and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla), the British-made Berserk! was undertaken when Crawford’s reputation as a heavy drinker rendered her an unacceptable insurance risk, stateside.

Coming as it did on the heels of the double-barreled horror blitz of William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) and I Saw What You Did (1965), Berserk! may have further distanced Crawford from her glory days at MGM in the mind of the public, but it did serve to indelibly cement her status as Hollywood’s then-reigning scream queen. A reputation reinforced by her appearances on supernatural-themed TV shows like Night Gallery and The Sixth Sense. And while rival Bette Davis may have appeared in a couple of slightly more upscale UK features at this time (The Nanny -1965 and The Anniversary-1968), Berserk! and Trog gave Crawford what she needed: employment (at a time when many of her peers had been forced into early retirement), leading lady status, and above-the-title billing.
"This is APPALLING! I have devoted myself to making, Angela a proper young lady!"

In a moment redolent of Mommie Dearest's infamous Chadwick expulsion scene, Monica's daughter Angela is expelled from The Fenmore School for Young Ladies. In real life, Joan's daughter Christina campaigned unsuccessfully for the Judy Geeson role, to which Crawford responded to the press, "Christina is not ready to have such responsibility. To co-star with 'Joan Crawford'? Isn't that a lot of pressure to put on the girl?"

The aforementioned Trog (1970) was the second vehicle in Crawford’s contract with Herman Cohen and her last feature film appearance. In the 1994 book, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers by Tom Weaver, producer Cohen refutes claims that Crawford was ever subjected to the kind of on-a-shoestring treatment his low-budget films suggest (namely, the oft-repeated rumor that Crawford had to dress in the back of a station wagon while making Trog).
According to Cohen, Crawford always insisted on being treated like a major star, and to make her happy he was glad to stretch the budgets of both Berserk! and Trog to accommodate the Crawford-mandated expense of: a Rolls Royce and driver, an apartment with a maid and cook, and a large location dressing room caravan. Anything to make Miss Crawford feel like the star she was (or used to be). 
Cohen also relates that it was important he never use the term “horror film” when talking to Crawford about their professional collaborations. Joan, it seems, hated the idea of horror films and considered her films for Cohen to be dramas with “…some horrific moments.”
Scream Queen
At this stage, it didn't matter to Joan what her name appeared on,
just so long as it appeared on SOMETHING....preferably in big letters

I’m pretty much an all-around Joan Crawford fan, but a glance at my DVD collection reveals a decided preference for late-career Crawford. To me, Joan at her worst is actually Joan at her best. I don’t deny the appeal of her early films, but in them, I've always sensed the indelible imprint of the MGM assembly line. She comes across too similar (looks, mannerisms, and speech) to every other major actress on the roaring lion’s payroll at the time. However, the over-the-top, almost frightening Joan Crawford unveiled in Torch Song (1953) and movies thereafter, is another Joan altogether.
Seeming to purposefully shed all those soft and vulnerable qualities evident in her performances in movies like Possessed (1947) and Daisy Kenyon (1947), late-career Crawford retained–if not emphasized–the hardness and severity she brought to her roles in Flamingo Road (1949) and Harriet Craig (1950). Post-1950s Joan Crawford had transmogrified into a being of her own creation. A being who was not so much an actress as the human embodiment of the principles of hard work, discipline, determination, and self-delusion. Joan was no longer just a star; she was stardom triumphant. A larger-than-life entity so committed to giving her fans The Joan They Knew And Loved, her performances took on the quality of grand opera. A quality blissfully ignorant of things like camp sensibilities, drag queen aesthetics, or modulating a performance to the appropriate scale of the film at hand.
Berserk! is a thoroughly harmless (one might say affectless) suspenser that’s a great deal of silly fun in that way unique to low-budget genre flicks that harbor few illusions about themselves and harbor no objectives beyond giving the audience a good scare. But as pleasant as it is to play “whodunit” in a colorful setting brimming with red herrings and hoary fright effects; Joan Crawford is the entire show. And for me, she alone is what makes Berserk! worth watching at all. As efficiently as she carries out her ringmaster duties while showing off her handsome legs in that Edith Head-designed leotard, Crawford single-handedly turns the mediocre Berserk! into a masterpiece of high drama and unintentional circus camp.

Diana Dors, about to be sawed in half as magician's assistant to Philip Madoc in Berserk! 1967 
Diana Dors, about to be sawed in half as magician's assistant to David J. Stewart
in the unaired 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

In Berserk!, if Joan is less than 100% convincing as the owner of a traveling circus, it’s only because she runs it with an aggressive authority and Machiavellian cunning more appropriate to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Plus, it's hard to imagine Joan putting up with untidy elephants. 
I can’t say anything about her performance here that I haven’t already covered in previous posts on Queen BeeStrait-Jacket, and Harriet Craig. Only to add that I get a particular kick out of the way Crawford's studied line readings in Berserk! have a way of sliding from her usual over-enunciated, studio-groomed elocution, into a curious brand of Texas-accented dialect:
“That’s JUST whadda mean!”
“Want me to spell it out fuh ya?”
“He’s just mah business partner!”
With dinner over, Hardin's ready for dessert 
The supporting cast of Berserk! is quite good, what with each actor wisely giving the film’s star as wide a berth as possible for the histrionic grandstanding that inevitably shows up. My favorites are Diana Dors, saddled with a truly awful wig but giving each of her scenes an enjoyably bitchy vitriolic punch. The appealing Judy Geeson is given scant to do, but does so with a level of genuineness that almost feels out of place for a movie like this (“Geeson’s pretty but doesn't have the stuff to make it for the long haul,” sniffed Crawford in an interview). And the regrettably-named Ty Hardin (that is, until you learn his real name is Orison Whipple Hungerford …JR!!!) makes an appropriately incongruous choice for Crawford’s love interest. Although I guess his towering frame and obvious youth serve to cast just the right amount of suspicion on his character’s motives.
Ted Lune, Golda Casimir, George Claydon & Milton Reid
Berserk! grinds to a screeching halt in order to accommodate
the cutesy musical number, "It Might Be Me"

Contractual show-biz pairings are nothing new. If you hired TV personality, Steve Allen, you had to take Jayne Meadows. British director Bryan Forbes never worked without his wife Nanette Newman. And, pre-split-up, getting Tim Burton always meant Helena Bonham Carter was not far behind. In the 60s, Joan Crawford and Pepsi were an onscreen pair made in product-placement heaven.

I was ten years old when Berserk! was released in theaters, and I recall how disturbing I found the TV commercials and newspaper ads that prominently featured the image of a man about to have a stake driven through his head by a hammer. I was actually too afraid to see the movie at the time, but I wonder what I would have made of it. As silly as it seems to me now, I might have actually gotten into it then.
This is one of several different "Shock-Limit" quiz teaser ads that
appeared in local newspapers in January 1968

Watching the film today, the plot, such as it is, really fades into the distance, and the entirety of my enjoyment is centered exclusively around Crawford and the Crawford mystique. Like a solar eclipse, Joan Crawford and all she has come to represent as a gay icon and camp godsend blots out everything else. Every aspect of Crawford and her life have been parodied and talked about for so long that it's hard for me to even see her as a human being, much less a fictional character. One she plays as pretty much as a template of her Joan Crawford image. 
As I find with all of Crawford's late-career films, watching Berserk! is like being given a tour of a Joan Crawford tribute museum. And I honestly wouldn't have it any other way.
There are scenes infused with near-confessional references to her real-life failed romances, dedication to work over all else, and her "problematic" mothering skills. 
Joan and Ty adopt a pose ripped from countless vintage movie posters
 (not to mention paperback romance novels)
Indeed, every one of Geeson's scenes with Crawford subliminally calls to mind Mommie Dearest:
"And what about your Christmas card list?"
"Because I'm not one of your FAAAANS!"
"You know, Christina, flirting can be taken the wrong way...."

Perhaps a stronger film than Berserk! could surmount these distractions, but Berserk! has so little going for it that's really compelling; one can't help but welcome every self-referential, over-acted, self-serious moment the great Miss Joan Crawford provides. So, for fans of the best that camp has to offer...Step right up!

The original (spoiler-filled) Berserk! trailer that scared me as a kid.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (1961) - Diana Dors stars in this circus-themed episode that was never aired because sponsors deemed it too gruesome.

George Claydon, who played Bruno the clown in Berserk! appeared as the
first Oompa Loompa on the left in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Diana Dors was not only quite the bombshell in her youth, but in later years became one of television's most articulate, witty, and charming talk show guests. Here's a clip of a 1971 television interview.

Wikipedia biography of actor Ty Hardin referencing his 8 marriages and eventual descent into right-wing, nutjob, ultra-conservatism.

Given how much Joan Crawford favored the dramatic lighting which cast a shadow across her neck,  I suppose it's only fitting that on the day I took this photo of her star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame (in front of the Capitol Records building near Hollywood & Vine) I was unable to avoid this band of shadow falling across it. I can imagine Crawford in heaven telling God how to light her correctly. 

Copyright © Ken Anderson   2009 - 2015


  1. Ken,
    Just last week, I watched Johnny Guitar with my own Mommie.
    We howled with laughter over the hooty dialogue and the glowering performances by two of Hollywood's butch-est actors, Joan Crawford and Merecedes McCambridge.

    You gotta give credit for Joan as the first example of a star who constantly re-invented herself, paving the way for Cher and Madonna. But JC really fascinates when she hit her 50s. Her on-screen self seems to constantly reference her off-screen self. This is easy to say in hindsight, but it's pretty obvious it's no accident, especially when you watch latter day interviews with latter day JC, often over-the-top and/or tipsy.

    And yes, San Antonio-born Joan was known to slip from MGM English back to Texas twang when stressed or soused!

    Forgive me if I repeat myself, Ken, but I'm assuming you've seen the famous Night Gallery episode where Joan plays the richest bitch in the Big Apple who has everything but the gift of sight. One of Spielberg's first efforts, very stylish actually. And Grande Dame Joan goes from great lady tones to Texas alley cat when her eye operation goes awry. What's hilarious is her donor is Tom Bosley from Happy Days!

    And finally, ever read the infamous Redbook article that predicted Mommie Dearest? It's called "The Revolt of Joan Crawford's Daughter." Published in 1960...and no, the byline was not by Barbara "Please!" Bennett...but it has a number of creepy anecdotes that back up Christina's claims...

    This was a fun one, Ken!
    Is Trog on the horizon? ; )


    1. Hi Rick, and Thanks!
      You’re so right in noting that onscreen Joan is always referencing her offscreen self. Even a great many of her early screen roles seemed to draw from her real-life humble beginnings and well-known work ethic. I really only paid attention to Joan post-Mommie Dearest, so I don’t have much recollection of what I thought of her before public knowledge of her private life began to bleed into each of her screen appearances.

      But like you, I like and admire her ability to reinvent herself, and dogged belief in herself.
      I’m a big fan of “Johnny Guitar” but the all-out butchness of her performance stops itfrom being a top favorite. I think I like her best when her mannish ways creep through her studied and archaic attempts to come across like a lady.

      Have seen that Night Gallery episode many times. She is also so very watchable to me…good or bad (I thought of you recently as one of those Joanna Pettet episodes aired recently...I thinkI’m going to have to write about them).

      And I’ve never heard of that Redbook article you mention. I’ll have to look it up! (Love the “Barbara,“Please!” reference. That scene always makes me howl. And nowadays I seem unable to get Lypsinka’s hilarious mashup of that immortal line out of my head.
      And yes, a write-up on Trog is an inevitability, I’m afraid.

    2. Here's the Redbook article, Ken... it's an eyeopener...especially in a star-friendly women's magazine circa 1960, when the mainstream press "played ball" with the stars.

    3. Thanks, Rick
      Wow! You weren't kidding when you said it was an eye-opener. It's so NOT a fluff piece, I had to keep rechecking the date to make sure it wasn't some news magazine. Thanks for sending the link. I loved reading it. Knowing how in families there is always, your side, their side, and then some twisted version of the truth that cannot be seen by either party, the article was an uncomfortable read. sensing that both sides of their tale are actually true, you feel bad for both Joan and Christina. Yikes, what a mess!

  2. I'll come back and properly *devour* this blog later! I've only ever seen the aptly-named Berserk once, many years ago, but it is stamped in my memory. Joan's weird little braided wiglet hairpiece. Ty Hardin shirtless! The ultra-buxom Diana Dors.

    1. Once is not enough!
      Hope you get around to seeing it again sometime. Thanks to my research for this post, I've really fallen in love with Diana Dors...a great actress who was also a very engaging personality.

  3. I cannot tell you how much I THOROUGHLY enjoyed reading this. We are in complete agreement when it comes to the enjoyment of Miss Crawford's career. I like and appreciate her early work, but am damn near obsessed with her latter-day, less prestigious roles.

    How neat that Diana had once before played a magician's assistant for a sawing trick! Interesting tidbit!

    Putting Christina's book to one side, for the MOVIE adaptation of "Mommie Dearest," it's very clear that the makers had no interest in forging a penetrating, realistic portrayal of an abusive relationship between a mother and daughter, but instead set out to make the ultimate "Joan Crawford Movie" only this time with the leading character being Joan herself!!! This movie is a striking, key element of it, but so is "Queen Bee" along with some others.

    Ty and Joan as a couple... Egads! I don't know that his prematurely gray hair did much to diffuse the glaring age difference! (Not to mention her long fright wig!)

    I'm not a fan of circuses, but I'd pay good money to attend this one just to hear Miss C. introduce each act with her inimitable delivery of the introductions. Bravo!

    1. Thanks a heap, Poseidon!
      That’s very kind of you. Joan Crawford is great when she’s young, but she’s FASCINATING in her later films. Within the same film she can have moments of amazing subtlety and nuance, then the very next scene she can be playing so broadly you think you’re watching Kabuki Theater.

      It seems Joan Crawford’s real life crisscrossed her screen life in so many ways, by the time Mommie Dearest came out, it was like her life became this Mobius strip: impossible to tell where real and play-acting ended or began.
      I agree with you, each time I watch Mommie Dearest it seems more and more like watching a Joan Crawford movie than a film ostensibly ABOUT Joan Crawford.

      Diana Dors pretty much paying homage to one of her early TV roles I only discovered researching this post.
      As for Hardin as Crawford’s beau, their age difference is glaring, but their height difference is sometimes startling. He towers over her. And in any scene with Bruno in it as well, Hardin has to virtually fold himself in half.
      Thanks for visiting again, Poseidon. I know we both share a fondness for the finely-aged version of Crawford.

  4. Dear Ken: Hi!

    I actually saw sections of this film when it was on TCM about 10 years ago (I was doing a workout while it was on, so my eyes weren't exactly glued to the screen). :)

    The late-career Crawford somewhat distresses me. I find it hard to watch any of her films after "Daisy Kenyon" because too much of the psychologically damaged, real-life Crawford (if "real-life Crawford" isn't a contradiction in terms) shows through. I have seen all of her films from "Flamingo Road" through "Esther Costello," but the ones after that I find too hard even to sit through once.

    But back to "Berserk!": I do have to say, from the portions of the movie I saw, your comments are spot-on. I liked Dors quite a bit (and I did happen to see the infamous sawing scene) and also Geeson, who came across as quite sweet and likeable. Hardin seemed like a big stick, but I doubt that bothers too many people, as long as he has his shirt off. :)

    Inciedntally, I found it no surprise when I perused Hardin's Wikipedia bio that he was managed by Henry Willson, the (in)famous gay agent who managed the careers of countless other hunky, not-that-talented men with unbelievably artificial names such as Guy Madison, Rock Hudson, Rory Calhoun, Tab Hunter, etc. etc.

    And one final note: standards must have changed quickly regarding too much violence on "Alfred Hitchcock" TV episodes, because a few seaons after the Dors episode was withheld from broadcast there was an episode that ended with a severed heard floating in a big glass jar!

    1. Hi David
      You hit the nail on the head questioning the existence of such an animal as a "real-life Joan Crawford" apropos my fascination with her in later years.
      Actors in the star system who really thrive seem to those most able to bring to their performances that weird blur between image and self that fans find so irresistible. With Crawford, the individual seemed to eclipse the actress i (or they merged into one) and what is shown onscreen seems to be full-throttle, 100-proof Joan.
      I'm sure it can seem like an unpleasant trainwreck watching her, but a little bit of respect and admiration is built into my amazement at her being able to be so "on" all the time.
      With old fossils like Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant being cast opposite childlike Audrey Hepburn, 61-year-old Crawford being given two lovers in "Berserk" is something like a triumph!

      Ty Hardin seems like the early prototype of Mel Gibson: a blandly handsome package concealing a truly ugly soul. And yes, that Henry Wilson connection...those names! Honestly,The Beverly Hillbillies' Dash Riprock was barely a spoof.

      And you're right about the speed with which one year's too gruesome becomes the nest year's "So what?" That's a great episode, but knowledge of it never being aired sets one up for a level of shock or something really isn't there.

  5. Superb - just a funny, smart, and affectionate look at late-career Joan and all she encompassed. While I can't think of a better pairing than Joan Crawford and the title Berserk!, I can admire her still-inspiring dedication to her work and her consciousness of her star status. (Not to mention how she could still get away with wearing tights!) What's so compelling about the late-Joan films is that you really get Joan at her purest - she's no longer bound by studio production bosses nor tightly controlled scripts, nor is she up against an equally strong co-star such as Davis. She is front and center and is the Show. Indeed, I think you're right that without Joan, Berserk! would be a pretty dull horror film (and would not have earned its title).

    It's fun to watch how the other actors in this film are so aware of her presence; and I think their British training would have eased any sense of ego competition with her. It seems a different story with Joan and Christina. Christina auditioning to perform with her mother reminds of the incident when Joan substituted for Christina on a daytime soap the latter was acting in. Joan took on Christina's role, with no explanation being given of how this older woman suddenly appeared as a familiar character! The competition between these 2 women must have been murderous.

    I'm just sorry that Diana Dors didn't get much of a chance in Berserk! She really was a talented actress, often better than her material; her performances in The Long Haul and Yield to the Night show a range of sensitivity and depth that I think most fans don't realize she possessed.

    1. Hi GOM
      I really adore Diana Dors (that doesn't sound right), and I have to look up some of her films. I remember reading that Joan initially didn't want Dors in the film, referring to her as a "cow"(how unladylike of Joan!). But when Dors was respectful yet unintimidated during the shooting, she won Crawford's respect.
      It is too bad Berserk! wasn't Joan's last film. She really is given her due as a star her, and everyone really allows themselves to recede into the background. Too bad it's a shock free thriller, that feels sometimes long at 96 minutes.
      Also, I had to laugh at your recalling that soap opera switcheroo between Joan and Crawford. I only have the Faye Dunaway reenactment to go on (has anyone ever seen the real thing?) but it must have been a doozy.
      i honestly can't imagine mother daughter actress harmony. I used to know the daughter of actress Dorothy McGuire. She was an actress for a brief time and they had a competition that seemed to begin in the womb.
      Thanks for the kind words, GOM, a pleasure to hear from you, always!

    2. Ken--As far as I can tell, YouTube only has the audio of Joan's substitution for Christina on "The Secret Storm", but it's well worth a listen:

  6. Hi Ken,

    Wondrous as always! Despite this being low budget junk I dearly wish that Joanie had decided to wrap things up with this demented circus opus where she at least was at her tightly pulled best rather then the tawdry shenanigans of Trog.

    I likewise adore all things Joan but for me her peak period, and the one I revisit the most, was the Warner’s years where Metro had ironed out almost all the rough Texas edges and she was feeling her power and reforming herself into the uber star without the dragon element that appeared around Torch Song but really kicked in post The Caretakers.

    Diana Dors, captured here as she was sliding down from her peak bombshell years into the frowziness that would eventually enable her to segue into the character roles that she was turned out to be surprising suited for, is fun in her role-you are so right about her wig!! EGADS!

    Ty Hardin is quite the looker and the film is happy to showcase him appropriately, too bad that behind the scenes he turned out to have far more than a cup full of crazy goin’ on. An unbelievably repellant, virulently bigoted loon.

    But really this is all about Joan, her rapt determination to remain an above the title star, even in reduced circumstances, and even though she might have been pie-eyed off camera she was still too much of a pro to ever let her audience down with anything less than the professional representation of JOAN CRAWFORD-MOVIE STAR that they were paying to see. Her almost demented drive was staggering, if a questionable goal to aspire to, but her dedication to always delivering for her fans is a lesson that many actors who take the money and phone in their performances, De Niro, Robert Downey Jr. and a few others come to mind, would be wise to take to heart.

    1. Hi Joel
      As much as i don't like to imagine a world without "Trog", I too wish this were her last film. Tawdry as it is, she at least doesn't have to play opposite a man in a really bad Halloween mask. What gets me is that the producer says "Trog" had a bigger budget! It looks sooo much cheaper than "Berserk!"
      Your description of Joan's professionalism (especially in contrast to today's lazy stars) is one of the reasons I like her so much - even on the downslide. She had her demons, to be sure, but her delusions seemed never seemed to reach the heights of say, Mae West. They always seemed to come from a place of having worked her ass off to be a star, and she wasn't going to give that up without a fight.
      But no matter how cheesy her films became, she at least doesn't have "Meet the Fockers" on her resume. Streisand, DeNiro and Hoffman appearing in THAT is lower than playing scenes opposite a man in an ape mask.

  7. Hi Ken - Wonderful post on this late-career triumph of Crawford, with gloriously curated photos. Indeed, it's far from a good movie, but La Crawford dominates every frame of film she's in, with her commanding performance and her still-shapely gams and chassis. Every inch the star, until the bitter end! FABULOSITY!

    I've read that producer Herman Cohen was given such a threadbare budget for this opus that Crawford had to huddle in a Cadillac limousine on the moors and use it as a makeshift dressing room, sipping her vodka from that ever-present silver flask...and that all the clothes were from her own closet, except for the leotard, which Edith Head designed as a favor to the star. None of that mattered to Crawford, as long as she looked good, and you are so right--in this one, she really does: Key light on those expressive eyes, a baby spot to wipe away the years, and everything below the chin disappears in shadow...the way we all need to be photographed at a certain age!!

    Like Rico, I too just watched Miss Crawford in Johnny Guitar last week...with all the lesbian love-hate subtext in her scenes opposite the equally frightening Mercedes McCambridge...Crawford obviously loved playing these ballbreaker roles!

    I must say I adore Crawford before she became a caricature of herself - Mildred Pierce and The Women are my favorite of her performances - but her steely persona carried her through two more full decades of stardom and are what has kept her an icon.

    Another amazing post! Your blog is DIVINE!! One of my greatest online pleasures...

    1. Thank you very much, Chris!
      Yes, Joan's late-career material was seriously beneath her, but she delivered the same Torch Song-level ham, which is why she's tops in my book.
      Here's a link to an excerpt from the book where Cohen refutes claims that Crawford ever had to dress in anything but high-style comfort while making his films:

      Of course, he has a vested interest in maintaining he's not a cheapskate, so I guess the jury's still out on that one (personally, after watching that William Castle documentary and hearing what hoops she made him jump trough, I can't imagine Crawford putting up with a Cadillac changing room).
      As a side note, Cohen relates that while he lavished her with all she required, she had a case of 100 proof vodka shipped from the US to London at her own expense, that particular percentage of vodka not being particularly plentiful in the UK.

      I have to take a look at Johnny Guitar again soon. Last time i saw it all i could remember was how annoyingly one-note McCambridge was. It was like sexual tension between them or something. She (not Joan) kind of got on my nerves.
      But young or old, Joan is great to watch, In fact, it feels like one can choose between three distinct Crawfords: sympathetic Crawford of her "Grand Hotel Years"; maturing Crawford of the 40s, and then my favorite, balls-out Crawford. For me, the best of the lot (or at least the most entertaining).
      Thanks, Chris. Fun talking (writing) movies with you!

    2. Fascinating interview with Herman Cohen!! Thanks for sharing...Crawford may indeed have been embroidering the truth about having to dress in the car (I believe she told this to her biographer Bob Thomas). She always liked to tell a good sob-story--I don't think there was ever an interview with Crawford without her interpolating the fact that she had to scrub floors to put herself through school...poor Joan!

    3. You're right. Looking back, the only times I ever hear about Joan's star-treatment requirements are when related by her co-stars and co-workers. Joan herself always liked to give the impression she was a "no fuss" hard working actress, not a diva.

  8. That trailer alone! So outrageous I can hardly take it.

    1. "Joan Crawford finds menace in every shadow!"

    2. LOL. In Berserk!, Joan Crawford finds shelter in every shadow.

    3. Certainly her neck and jawline did!

  9. I love this movie! I knew my husband was the one for me when, early in our relationship, we watched it and he could understand, despite all its shortcomings, my affection for it. In fact, 20-plus years later, he had to use a nom-de-plume on some paperwork (long story!) and he used "Monica Rivers"!

    You have to admire Joan's sheer force of will in bringing all that mid-century MGM glamour, talent, moxie, and diction to a threadbare little English horror movie. Whatever else you say about her (and I know there's plenty to say), her determination to always be a STAR, even in environments that clearly were not conducive to stardom, must elicit admiration.

    Have you seen the British TV-movie "The Blonde Bombshell"--an apparently quite accurate bio pic of Diana Dors? She was always regarded with a great deal of love by the British public.

    And finally, why am I not surprised that an eight-times-married Ty Hardin would end up as a right- wing nut job? Seems like he might have been a little unstable all along!

    1. Hi Deb
      Sounds like your hubby's a keeper! Anyone who can appreciate someone who appreciates this film...
      There really has to be a respect mixed with a lot of other things (incredulity being one) when talking about Joan during this period. It's admirable, sad, triumphant, and delusional all at once. One is never quite sure what she's going for in her performances (why did she seem to gravitate so much towards hard characters?) but never for an instant are you in doubt of her knowing EXACTLY what she wants to do in each scene...draw all the attention to herself.
      She's just great.

      I've never heard of the TV movie about Diana Dors, but I see it's on YouTube, so I'm going to check it out.
      And Ty Hardin is one of the few Crawford male co-stars I was unable to find any quotes from her regarding. I wonder if they got along?
      Does anyone know if she was carrying on with Herman Cohen? I've seen pictures of them together and she looks pretty moonstruck.

    2. Ken, bursting into this comment and reply with a reflection of my own. As a person, I have hardly ever been able to control my existence or steer things my way with any degree of ease and am often highly insecure, but as an ACTOR, I nearly always portray someone very, very much in control, or with a lot of power or the villain of the piece. So applying that to Joan, I think maybe beneath the tough surface of her invented persona and all the colorful trappings, she was still that beaten down little girl who found solace in playing parts that were strong, tough, durable and highly capable (yet always with that tinge of vulnerability, little cracks of it, which is something else I try to look for in a role... maybe I just want to be her! LOL) Make any sense?

    3. You make a lot of sense. I think Joan's drinking issues and kind of fervent degree of self-discipline must be the side effects (or survival tactics) of a very insecure person.
      She may have suppressed her vulnerability more in later years, but in early performances her soft and tough sides made her very appealing.

  10. I think the way the title comes onscreen is all you really need to see to know everything about this movie.

    I'll have to watch this again--not sure if I ever got all the way through. I guess if I'm watching a movie with Michael Gough and there's a shady sonofabitch lead character in it, I want him to play it.

    1. Excellent point! Most thrillers made on the cheap try to pawn themselves off as more serious-minded than their exploitation budgets suggest. Berserk! races headlong into sensationalism form the start.
      And I know what you mean about Michael Gough, he's such a terrific bad guy. Cast more to type in "Trog", in Berserk! I wish they had kept him around longer. he plays shady so well he would have been a terrific addition to the film's long roster of red herrings and suspicious characters.

  11. This just happened to pop up on Flavorwire a few days back. She even mentions "Beserk". But wondering how accurate some of these quotes are:

    1. Thanks for that! A very fun read.
      Although I know what you mean about wondering about the veracity of the quotes. So hard to tell these's like that telephone game we played as kids. People take rumor and gossip and it blows up into something someone actually said. The internet has memes with Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill quotes attributed to Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn!

    2. At least a couple of the quotes are from Roy Newquist's Conversations with Crawford, which is pretty solid. A couple more, though, do have an unconvincing, Boze Hadleigh-ish air...

  12. Too bad the good parts in the late 1960s for older women all went to Katherine Hepburn. Crawford could have soared in "The Lion in Winter."

    1. That's an interesting point and provocative casting!. Some some biographers have claimed Crawford not being offered more upscale material was a result of her drinking, but Bette Davis didn't seem to fare much better during this period.
      I would have loved to see what a really strong director could have gotten out of late-career Crawford (if she'd let them).

    2. Back in the 60s and early 70s, Kate got the few good older women roles in Hollywood, the way Meryl does today. I think that's mostly because Kate had done quality work in the 1950s, while Joan's vehicles were increasingly bizarre vanity productions.

      However, there's no reason why Joan couldn't have gotten herself a popular TV series like pal Barbara Stanwyck's "The Big Valley." Both ladies thrived on hard work and were total pros...but Crawford's Achille's heel was her drinking, which had escalated over the decades where it was common knowledge in Hollywood.

    3. I've always thought Joan's acting style (which remained frozen in arch, stylized, indicating style of her era) is what prevented her from landing decent roles later in life, but you're totally right that she would have been perfect for the sometimes soap opera level histrionics required of a TV series.
      In fact, her TV guest appearances are all pretty good (in that way where someone with her vitality could totally wipe up the floor with TV stiffs like Robert Wagner, Joseph Campanella, or Paul Burke).
      Certainly those horror stories that have surfaced about how rough going it was for her with her appearance on The Lucy Show point to how reticent much of Hollywood must have been about her drinking.

  13. ANOTHER great post, Ken! In fact - Joan was offered the role that eventually went to Olivia De Haviland in AIRPORT '77. A disaster movei, true - but an "A" list disaster movie with "A" list stars - Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Joseph Cotten, Lee Grant. I can't remember why she ultimately didn't accept it though. Fascinating too, that Olivia got Joan's potential role in A77 after getting Joan's role in "HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE.

    1. Thanks, Michael!
      I wasn't aware of her being offered that role in "Airport 77" (B movie with an A list cast is a perfect description). And as you say, funny how De Havilland had become Crawford's cinematic "cleanup woman" - picking up the roles Crawford left behind.

    2. Don't forget that the love interest of the Joan/Olivia character in BOTH "Charlotte" and "Airport '77" was the aforementioned Joseph Cotten! Talk about coincidental irony.

    3. Well - I guess that description is fair! I love all the AIRPORT flicks, so I tend to elevate them :)

    4. Poseidon, nice bit of "Six degrees..." there! I never made the De Havilland / Cotten duo co-star connection before. Now with Crawford added to the mix.

  14. Joan died in the spring of '77, shortly after this movie was released. From what I've read, Crawford was reclusive, then ill, the last year or more of her life. She probably wasn't up to it.

  15. Hi Ken, as she segued from glamour girl into character actress, Diana Dors became a truly beloved British showbiz institution, seemingly never off-screen on 1970s television. She could always be relied upon to brighten up any chat show on which she appeared, and was almost always the most entertaining cast member in any of her 1970s films - my own favourite Dors performances of this period being Jack Hawkins' sexy wife in Theatre of Blood, and the despicable and murderous housekeeper Mrs Wickens in the almost-classic children's ghost story The Amazing Mr Blunden. She was one of those unique British stars whose like will never be seen again... personalities such as Diana Dors, Margaret Rutherford, Kenneth Williams, Athene Seyler, Terry-Thomas, Joan Sims and Dora Bryan were genuinely adored by British audiences, and whether playing the lead or a brief cameo could always be counted on to lighten the heart. I think l am one of the few people who saw Dors playing the slatternly mother in a three part schools TV version of A Taste of Honey (schools TV was - believe it or not - perfectly cast but probably economically shot BBC educational drama which was screened in the afternoon and watched by classes to encourage interest and knowledge of drama as a subject. Imagine that happening today!). Dors was magnificent, and l remember her performance vividly, even though it is over forty years since l saw it!

    1. It's nice to hear that Dors was so beloved in her country of origin. She has a bit of a cult-like status here, but her films are sorely underrepresented on cable stations or even online.
      Although I liked her onscreen, it was only after seeing some of her talk show appearances that i really came to appreciate her as a personality. She was terrifically engaging.
      Thanks for paying such lovely tribute to Diana Dors, and for providing a better sense of the actress' home court renown!

    2. Milliefan and Ken, and any other Diana Dors-lovers: I'm late getting into the conversation, but are you familiar with the 1956 London stage musical "Grab Me a Gondola"? It's about the fun that ensues when a Diana Dors-like starlet invades the Venice film festival to gather publicity for herself. I never saw the show (I'm not THAT old!) but I've had the cast album for years and it's lots of fun. All the tracks are on YouTube and here's a sample, Joan Heal as the Dors-like star singing "That's My Biography":

      Dors herself was also a rather fine singer. Here she is singing "The Gentleman is a Dope" from her early '60s LP titled (like one of her autobiographies) "Swingin' Dors":

      I remember seeing Dors sing on a later, hour-long episode of "The Alfred Hitchcock Show" opposite John Gavin. Here's a clip:

      Quite good, isn't she? :)

    3. Hi David
      What a treasure trove of info! I'd never heard of the London musical you linked, but I love the score! Right up my alley, lyric wise. Surprises me that I've never come across it.

      And I like Diana Dors as a singer, as well. I have a couple of her songs on my ipod, but the one you listed is new to me, and that is a great TV clip of her singing. Nice to hear so many people singing her praises in these comments. Thanks for the contributions, David!

  16. Diana also penned several autobiographies and general tell-tale books. The first was published around 1960, when she was slim and gorgeous, and entitled Swingin' Dors. Many years (and extra pounds) later she joked that she should have called the second book Creakin' Dors! In fact, over a period of about five years she produced Dors by Diana, Behind Closed Dors, Diana Dors A-Z of Men and Diana Dors For Adults Only. To fill so many pages so quickly, Diana may have slightly exaggerated some of her stories (a la Shelley Winters) and she got in hot water with Joan Collins by claiming Joan had lied about an acquaintanceship with James Dean, which led to Diana having to apologise and promise never to mention Joan in print again! Though even today Diana is talked about as England's answer to Marilyn, I have always seen her as our version of Shelley Winters... glam but not truly beautiful, larger than life, outspoken and far better as a character actress than as an ingenue. Forgot to say, Ken, great post on Berserk!

    1. Hey Milliefan
      Thanks! I had no idea Dors was so prolific an autobiographer. If her writing style was anything like her talk show persona, the books must be a hoot. In those pre-Amazon days, it was always so hard to find books published primarily in the UK over here (I had to buy Twiggy's autobiography through some import house. As famous as she is her book was never published here).
      And I agree with you at Shelly Winters is a more apt comparison for Dors than Monroe.

    2. I saw "Jurassic World" yesterday and loved it. However, Bryce Dallas Howard is bland as the career women running the park. My mind kept imagining a 1960s version (if that could have been made) with Joan starring in a beige suit and white lab coat. Rod Taylor would play the Chris Pratt part. Joan going face to face with a T-rex. I see that.

    3. Ha! I like the way you think.
      Your idea of a 60s "Jurassic World" had me recalling those scenes of jumpy, stop-motion dinosaurs used in the flashback scenes in Joan Crawford's immortal "Trog." Although I can't see Joan paired with a co-star as substantial as Rod Taylor (maybe somebody more B-movie bland like "Strit-Jacket"s John Anthony Hayes), I CAN picture the white lab-coated Joan of "Trog" squaring off against a "T-rex. Not as evenly-matched a pairing as Crawford & Davis, but a battle royale nonetheless!

    4. Lee Majors on his summer off from "The Big Valley." How the movie business changes, in 1970 "Trog" was a C- production. In 1984 the same idea was a major A level production, "Iceman" with Timothy Hutton and John Lone.

    5. I'd forgotten about "Iceman"! Excellent point about the movie business, too. Quentin Tarantino has made a A-list career out of regurgitating every 70s B-exploitation film he grew up watching, and Marvel makes millions rehashing the exact sort of Saturday matinee stuff that studios cranked out for pennies.
      Yesterday's schlockmeisters would be visionaries in today's adolescence-fixated Hollywood.

    6. I am watching Berserk! at this very moment. Ironically, I just sent a condensed version of a review very similar to yours to a friend. I'm positively tickled by this film. Die! Die! My Darling! is on later this evening. I shall check back with you after watching that :-)

  17. Hi Ken-
    This ranks high as one of your funniest entries. So many good barbs it's hard to pick one, but the bit about the weight of you eyelids is up there.
    I'm new to the love of Miss Dors, and it's now cemented with this latest viewing of Berserk. As much as Miss Crawford IS this movie, without Dors it would be interminable when Joan isn't on the screen. Somehow I'd forgotten all about her mini catfight!
    As if it's not bad enough that they show so much of the circus acts, what is up with also having to show the full parade of stars whose acts we DIDN'T see before Geeson gets to do her dizzying knife act? Ugh.
    I'd forgotten who exactly was behind it all (although there really weren't that many possibilities, despite the whole stab-my-eyes-and-ears "It Could Be Me" number) but was a tad disappointed it was a bit of a knock off of one of her prior films...Cheap from start to finish!
    God love Edith Head though...that ringmaster outfit is one for the ages. Remake the film with Tina Turner now, same effect.

    1. Hello Pete
      Happy you enjoyed reading this. I think it would be difficult NOT to be funny when talking about this film. Any sober description of any aspect of it tends to be laugh-inducing.
      The observation you make about Diana Dors is a very good one. She brings a great deal of snap to this movie, which has a surplus of sincere characters. So much of it is filler it's rather staggering, as they could have used some of that circus-footage time in building up the likelihood of possible suspects.
      By the way, the idea of Tina Turner in a remake of this is too perfect! Thanks for commenting Pete!

  18. This was an excellent overview of the movie and more! You saw so many of the same things that I did. (Shadow neck)😉 I loved the humorous take on everything!

    1. It's great when others take notice of the very same odd or curiously funny things you enjoy in a movie, isn't it? And "BERSEK" comes with a boatload of gems laid out only for the discerning eye! I'm so pleased you enjoyed this post and thank you very much for reading it and taking the time to write such a generous comment. Cheers!