Chato's Land (1971)

Country: United States
Director: Michael Winner
Charles Bronson, Jack Palance, Richard Basehart, James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Richard Jordan, Victor French
Music: Jerry Fielding

Chato’s Land is a very interesting film. It is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but all the characters are fleshed out, and have multiple layers, and some traditional western stereotypes are turned on their head.

The film opens in a saloon, and an Apache, Chato (Charles Bronson) has a shiny silver dollar down on the bar, and he is expecting to be poured a drink. At that moment, the Sheriff of the town, Eli Saunders, enters the saloon through the swinging doors and makes his way to the bar. The bottle of whisky intended for Chato, is snatched up by the barkeep and handed to the lawman. The Sheriff pours a goodly portion into his glass, and then approaches Chato saying that it is a ‘white man’s saloon and sells white man’s liquor’. He tells the Indian to leave before he kills him.

The lawman keeps pushing Chato, and then pulls a gun. But he is not fast enough. Chato spins, aims and fires. Eli Saunders falls down dead.

With the Sheriff dead, justice falls to Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance), an ex-soldier who craves authority and command. From an old trunk, he drags out he old Confederate uniform and puts it on. Then he assembles and leads a posse, setting out to apprehend the renegade Apache. However, many of the posse members are not really ‘bring to justice’ types – particularly the Hooker Brothers. They are racist killers with their own perverted agendas to fulfill.

Of course, as played by Charles Bronson, Chato is not easy to track, let alone kill.

The main problem with the film is the lack of explanation for Chato’s initial reaction. Sure, the sheriff was a loud mouth racist; but if Chato had left the bar when he was initially asked, then there wouldn’t have been a killing. It’s probably a safe assumption that Chato had been bullied and victimised his whole life. And he certainly had the right to have a drink in the bar as much as the next man. But enough was enough, and he acted. On the flipside, however, is he killed the sheriff, and as such should be brought to justice. His act of defiance perpetuates the negative attitude that all American Indians are savage animals. Chato’s actions are not the way of a ‘noble savage’; this is more an example of ‘might is right’*. Chato was the better gunman, and that is why he won in the brief gunfight. It was not because he had ‘right’ on his side.

All the characters in the film are drawn in shades of grey. No one is right. The casting of Charles Bronson as the central protagonist negates any social commentary that the film may have provided. Maybe if Will Sampson had been cast, then it may have been a different story.

Admittedly, the Hooker brothers, all driven by racist hate, push the posse on to further extremes than their lawful mandate would warrant. But despite the individual idiosyncrasies, good or bad, of each man in the posse, the group is treated as a whole. After the rape of his wife, Chato as he seeks retribution, kills everyone (or at least that’s his intention). He doesn’t divide them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ posse members. As far as he is concerned, they are all responsible.

As I said at the top, Chato’s Land is an interesting film, but it never makes any profound statements, beyond life in the old west was tough, which is a shame, because the film had a solid framework, and could have served up, not only an action packed western, but a thoughtful one too.

* Before anyone comments, that I am a racist and missing the point of the film, and this may seem strange for someone as parochially Australian as I am, but my great great grandmother was an Apache, so I am not pumping out some politically correct agenda or ‘anti-political correct’ agenda as the case may be. In fact the racist slurs in the film I find particularly repellent, but I also understand that they are part of a performance by actors portraying repellent characters.
Chato's Land (1971)


Author: Wayne D. Dundee
Published: March 2012

The first rule of Fightcard – you do not mess with Danny ‘The Duke’ Dugronski!

Dugronski is the hard punching hero of Counterpunch, the forth book in the Fightcard series created by Mel Odom and Paul Bishop. The man behind the pen name, Jack Tunney, for this entry is Wayne D. Dundee.

As the story opens, Danny Dugronski has just lost his trainer, and friend, Packy, to a heart attack. But he goes into his next fight without him. The fight is tough but fair, but going into the eighth round ‘The Duke’ is down on points. Summoning up a bit of grit, he goes in hard and scores a knockout.

It all seems good. That is until later – some punk knocks on his door, and hands him an envelope with two-hundred and fifty dollars in it. The punk claims it was part of a deal that Packy had arranged, and this was ‘The Dukes’ share. This angers Danny, as he knows that there is no way that Packy would have arranged a rigged fight. And secondly, the fight was tough and hard. There was no way that his opponent took a dive. Was there?

Danny follows up on this, approaching the gangster behind it all, a fellow named Malone, and tells him he is not interested in participating in any fixed fights. Later, of course, as any two-bit gangster worth his salt would do, Malone sends out his boys to rough up Danny. The thing with Danny is, that he was a Marine – and sure he knows how to fight with his fists – but he also knows other ways to fight too!

Of the elements I have enjoyed about the Fightcard series so far, is the diversity of the stories. Each writer has brought something new to the plate. If you’ll forgive the cinematic comparisons – but totally appropriate, because the stories are very cinematic – Felony Fists was like a cross between LA Confidential and RockyThe Cutman was like a wartime Robert Mitcham film, crossed with the Godfather Part II – and Split Decision was like The Grapes of Wrath crossed with Robert Siodmak’s The Killers.

What does Counterpunch remind me of? The Big Heat. Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat, starring Glenn Ford as a relentless police detective, Dan Bannion, is one of my favourite crime films from the 1950s. Counterpunch shares more than a few similarities. At the start of The Big Heat, Bannion shares a steak and a beer with his wife. In Counterpunch, after winning a fight, Danny would always head back to Packy’s for a steak and a beer. Another similarity, is the almost relentless decency, that both men share, despite being drawn in to a corrupt world. And both men, refuse to back down, fighting for what is right – their way!

Of course, Danny is a boxer, not a cop, and Counterpunch is a boxing story, so there has to be a big fight at the end, and this has a good one. Despite being previously beaten by hoods with baseball bats, Danny has to get into the ring with a wrecking machine, known as Edgar ‘The Ogre’ O’Brien.

Counterpunch is another ‘kayo’ for the Fightcard series.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.


Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Country: Japan
Director: Shûsuke Kaneko
Starring: Tsuyoshi Ihara, Akira Onodera, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitano
Music: Kô Ôtani

I still consider myself a Keigu Eiga novice. Over the last couple of years, I have sampled a good number of Godzilla films – not as many as I would like, only around eight – but I haven’t really branched out into the other monsters. Today I rectify that (well it’s a start) with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. As far as monsters go, Gamera, as giant turtle, isn’t really as threatening as Godzilla, or even King Kong. And although I have never seen them, the early Gamera movies are generally derided for being pretty cheesy. But this feature, Guardian of the Universe isn’t too bad at all. I enjoyed it immensely – only slightly hindered by a slow start – it is over thirty-five minutes into the film, before Gamera really makes his first appearances.

As the film begins, the Patrol Boat Nojima is escorting the freighter Kairu Maru off the Indonesian coast, heading up, back toward Japan. The Kairu Maru’s cargo, and the reason for the escort, is one ton of plutonium. All hell breaks loose, when the Maru runs aground on an atoll – the weird thing being that they were in 3000 feet of water at the time. Of course, every fears an environmental disaster of epic proportions – but thankfully the ship’s hull was not breached. But this uncharted atoll is a mystery – especially when it is discovered that that atoll is actually moving – also heading towards Japan. A young scientist named Yonemori (Tsuyoshi Ihara) joins a research team to find this atoll.

Seemingly unrelated, Professor Hirata, an ornithologist, is called to the island of Himegami, off the Japanese coast, as there have been reports of a giant bird causing havoc. But after a storm, and the disappearance of the entire population of Himegami, including the Professor – the police are called into investigate. They contact his first assistant, Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama), to pick up the pieces. She flies out to check the scene.

The island has been trashed – and the only sign of the Professor is found in (sorry folks) a giant turd. It can be assumed that the monster bird, which made the deposit, has eaten the Professor. Later Nagamine and the police venture further into the jungle interior of the island searching for the killer bird. As they wander aimlessly, it flies overhead. The bird’s size – it has a 15 metre wing span – panics the police chief who then exclaims that this job in no longer in his jurisdiction. He wants to get off the island he becomes a snack for the giant flying fiend.

But the bird is not after them. It is migrating to the Goto Archipelago, where food (people) is more abundant. Nagamine and the police follow the bird in a helicopter – and while in pursuit, she takes a photo of the creature in flight. Inadvertently, when the flash goes off, she discovers that the creature does not like bright light. But that is the least of her discoveries. As the creature circles around, they discover that there are two more of the flying killers.

Of course, these beasts aren’t birds at all – as they have no feathers, and they have fangs. They are, in fact, Gyaos, a creature that is ancient and evil.

Meanwhile Yonemori and his team, have been busy with their atoll research. They have tracked the moving atoll, and launch a team to investigate the floating, rock covered anomaly. The team land in an inflatable dinghy, and begin a search. Among the rocks they find a series of small comma shaped beads – I won’t tell you what the beads do, but I can assure you, they come into the story later. Next they find a large carved stone tablet, half buried amongst the rocks. The research team break out the picks and shovels and begin to dig it free.

Finally the tablet is free and Yonemori arranges for a helicopter to fly over from the research vessel, and airlift it out of there. But before this can happen, the tablet shatters, and the atoll begins to move once again. The rocks covering the surface of the atoll begin to crumble and fall away. Yonemori and his team and thrown from the atoll into the churning water – and there they see that the atoll is in fact a giant creature that had been encased in stone. I probably don’t need to tell you, this is Gamera.

Back at Gyaos central, Nagamine has been asked by the Japanese government to come up with a plan to capture the flying fiends. And that plan is to drive them forward, with spot lights ained at them from helicopters, towards Fukuoka Baseball Stadium which has a retractable roof. Once the creatures are driven inside, the roof will be closed, and Gyaos will be trapped. The army will then tranquilize them, and cage them.

While all this is being prepared, Yonemori returns and at monster HQ, informs everybody that they have another problem – and that is a giant sea creature heading their way – yes, Gamera. But the powers that be, are too busy with their Gyaos problem, and ignore the giant turtle that is on a collision course with the city.

Nagamine’s plan almost works. However, the tranquilizer shots are fired before the roof is fully closed and one of the Gyaos gets away. As it flies out over the sea, Gamera leaps out of the water on his hind legs. Then he proceeds to stomp through the city, causing the expected (and quite welcome, by this viewer) monster mayhem.

The question is – is Gamera a friend of the Gyaos, only in town to reek more destruction? Or is he an age old rival, and humanity’s only hope at stopping the flying forces of evil?

Gamera; Guardian of the Universe does everything a giant monster flick like this should do, and does it all pretty well. There is some CGI, but mostly it is miniatures being trashed – and that’s the way it should be – it is a part of the film’s charm. Gamera would return to save the earth one year later, in Gamera: Attack of the Legion.

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

Commando Raid

Author: R. Charlett
Publisher: Horwitz Publications
Published: 1965
Book No:. 3

Commando Raid is a slice of lurid Aussie pulp from Horwitz Publications, who were one of Australia’s leading producers of trashy thrill-a-minute stories. Sadly the likes of Horwitz no longer exist, and Australian genre fiction – although there is a surging groundswell, which I am excited about – is still pretty rare. And the old pulp novels have been discarded or fallen apart – so in some ways we are losing our heritage too. Okay, some of these stories weren’t great literature, and if you were to look at the stories of John Slater and Jim Kent, you would be justified in saying they were bottom-of-the-barrel filth, that is best left forgotten. But the writers and editors at Horwitz, and its adult offshoot, Scripts, weren’t stupid. They were writing for a market, and if the stories seem rather politically incorrect today, then it is safe to assume, that Australia in the late 1950s, through the 60s and 70s, was a politically incorrect society.

It’s hard to appreciate now, but in the 1960s, Australia’s population was only around 10 million people – well under half of what it is today. And therefore, even our big cities like Melbourne and Sydney were really only oversized country towns. Communities were smaller and more tight-knit, and the impact of the second world war was felt very deeply. And possibly because the Japanese bombed Darwin, and sent miniature submarines into Sydney Harbour to reek havoc, they were considered our greatest enemies, even more so than the Nazis. As I have mentioned elsewhere, in another post, my Great Uncle Jim was captured by the Japanese and died working on the Burma Railroad. But my family is not alone in this. Many Australian soldiers were captured by the Japanese, and were treated brutally.

The emotional impact of having had this brutality inflicted on a family member, or someone you knew, fermented in the small town, tight-knit communities of Australia in those days, creating a hell of a lot of anti-Japanese feeling. Horwitz Publishing latched on to this, releasing – and this is only a guess because accurate information of this is scarce – hundreds of titles, that showed the allied forces, and quite often Australian forces sticking it to the Japs.

Commando Raid fits that bill perfectly. The mission is laid out in the opening three paragraphs – page 7:

“Find and destroy that phantom directional beam that’s lured so many of our pilots to disaster over The Hump.”

That had been Captain John (“Pearly”) Gates briefing before he and his small commando group were flown to Putao (Fort Hertz). From here they were to fly The Hump (without following the phantom beam into a mountain peak) and parachute into the area where the remote Japanese transmitter was operating. It was the latest and most sinister menace the pilots flying over the cloud covered mountain peaks between Burma and China.

“The transmitter will have to be tracked down by ground parties,” the Colonel had said. But you can be sure it’ll be well guarded. It’s a tough assignment, Gates, but a vital one. You will be heavily outnumbered by enemy in the area and you’ll find their defences well dug in. But that transmitter has to be smashed – and as soon as possible.”

What I was pleased to see in this story, was Australian Aborigines weren’t portrayed as ignorant savages. From page 11 – as Gates discusses his team with the Pilot-Officer:

Montague grunted. “Hardly the type for an outfit like yours. You’ve got some pretty strange types in it already.”

“You mean the aborigine, Kanga Jones? He’s probably the finest recce scout in the business. What he can’t see or hear he can smell. He’s a kind of blood-hound with inbuilt radar.”

“How did you come to get him?”

“He was with an Australian unit that was practically wiped out by the Japanese 18th Div. in Malaya. He got away – and weeks later he was still carrying his rifle. I won’t have any man in my show who ever threw a rifle away.”

The remarkable thing is, not only is Kanga Jones depicted as being brave and resourceful, but this was written at a time, when Australian aboriginals didn’t even have the right to vote.

Commando Raid is not an exceptional piece of writing. But it was never intended to be. It was a piece of production line genre fiction, and as such it hits all the peaks expected in a story like this. The thing is, I can’t really recommend this story to anyone – but that is not because I don’t want to. But as I implied at the top of this review, vintage Australian fiction is disappearing at an alarming rate, and finding a copy of this book, will either be virtually impossible – or (unless you are exceedingly lucky) a very expensive proposition. Therefore I almost feel as if I am writing this review for posterity – saying that once there was a book called Commando Raid, written by R. Charlett and it wasn’t too bad!

From the Front Cover:

Captain “Pearly” Gates was forced to resort to extreme tactics on the dangerous assignment

From the Back Cover:

Somewhere, in the snow-bound, mountainous territory between Burma and China, an enemy transmitter was luring pilot after pilot to fiery death along its phantom beam.

“Find and Destroy”

had been his instructions. And Captain ‘Pearly’ Gates was well known as a man who carried out his orders – no matter how impossible the assignment.

There is also a book called Commando Assault, also written by R. Charlett, and released in 1965, which may be another “Pearly” Gates adventure. I am currently trying to track down a copy to confirm this.

For more Aussie pulp, check out: Pulp Curry.

Commando Raid

Violent Rome (1976)

Country: Italy
AKA: Roma Violenta, Forced Impact, Violent City
Director: Marino Girolami
Starring: Maurizio Merli, Ray Lovelock, John Steiner, Richard Conte, Luciano Rossi
Music: Guido De Angelis, Maurizio De Angelis

The man with the moustache, Maurizio Merli is back, as another hard-hitting, no holds barred police officer, in this the first of a trio of poliziotteschi films (the other two being Violent Naples (1976), and A Special Cop in Action (1976)). This time, Merli is Commissioner Betti, and guess what? He is committed to stopping crime at any cost, and he doesn’t get along with his superiors. Sound familiar? It is very similar Rome: Armed to the Teeth. It’s also similar to hundreds of other tough police dramas, not the least being Dirty Harry.

Have already made the comparison between Violent Rome and Rome: Armed to the Teeth, I’ll continue the association. While both films are episodic and hardly feature any police work (leads are obtained by informers or beating suspects within an inch of their lives), I must say that Violent Rome is the weaker of the two films. And this is based solely of the strength of the villain. Tomas Milian provided a focal point for the police’s frustration (and hostility) in Rome Armed To The Teeth. But Violent Rome doesn’t provide us with such a character. Sure there are dozens of scumbags for Betti to chase, punch, kick, or shoot at, but none last more than two scenes. Then again, that may be the point. It doesn’t matter how quickly Betti cleans the scum off the street, there are always more ready to take their place.

Another big difference between Violent Rome and Rome Armed To The Teeth is at the halfway point in the movie, Betti hands in his badge. Betti is disgraced after he shoots a criminal dead (John Steiner), rather than attempting to bring him in. It doesn’t matter to the powers that be, that this crim had shot a police officer in the back, and then whilst attempting to escape, indiscriminately fired a machine gun at a playground full of children, killing three. It was far easier to remove Betti, whose methods were an embarrassment to the police department.

For the second half of the movie, Betti works as a professional vigilante. A group of businessmen, led by lawyer Sartori (Richard Conte), have had a gutful of the impotence of the police force and the increase in crime in their city. They have banded together to fight crime, their own way. It’s all legal of course (citizen’s arrests – no killings), but it isn’t long before the group become a nuisance to the criminal underworld, and the underworld strike back.

There are a few other things worth mentioning. The first is a subplot involving corporal Biondi (Ray Lovelock). During the course of the movie, he sustains a gunshot wound to the spine. He becomes paralysed from the waist down. His scenes are the most poignant in the film. Biondi had joined the force wanting to be like Betti. Even after he is shot, he still has the burning desire to put the scumbags behind bars. But as he slowly watches Betti change into a ‘monster’ (it’s an exaggeration, but you get the point), Biondi slowly changes his point of view. It’s a subplot that could have been expanded more, but quite simply on the whole this film doesn’t slow down for characterization.

Another great scene involves a car chase through the streets of Rome. What impressed me, in a scene that shows just how cool headed and determined Betti is, is when his windscreen is shattered during the chase, obscuring his view. Does he stop? No. While driving, with one foot planted fully on the accelerator, he uses his other foot to kick out the windscreen.

Violent Rome, is vigorous, heart pounding stuff. If violent seventies style cop thrillers are your cup of tea, this is well worth checking out. It isn’t high art, by any stretch of the imagination but it does provide all the elements that you’d expect from this genre; car chases, gun fights, fist fights, fierce interrogations. And as a slight warning, it also features a particularly ugly rape scene, which may put some viewers off.

Violent Rome (1976)

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat

Author: Andrez Bergen
Publisher: Another Sky Press
Published: 2012

I do not know anything about science fiction noir – beyond Riddley Scott’s Blade Runner. Of course I am talking about the original release which had the voice-over narration by Harrison Ford, not the plethora of director’s cuts and re-releases since 1982. I remember at the time, I actually tried to read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep – which was the basis for the film Blade Runner. The thing is, science fiction isn’t really my bag, and I didn’t know what the hell was going on – so I wandered away from that one, more than a little confused (it’s nothing like the film).

However, hard-boiled detective fiction is something that I am familiar with, having read my share of Chandler, Spillane and Hammett. All of which are perfect preparatory tools to Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which is a retro pop culturist’s dream come true – and fairly entertaining to boot.

The story, which is set in Melbourne, Australia, some time in the future, concerns a fellow named Floyd, who, when his wife becomes ill and racks up extensive medical bills, is coerced into employment as a ‘Seeker’. And despite the Melbourne setting, being a ‘Seeker’ has nothing to do with singing ‘Georgy Girl’ or ‘The Carnival is Over’.

A Seeker is a bit like a cop, and their job is to hunt down ‘Devs’ – Deviants. But unlike other Seekers, Floyd is not particularly trigger happy, and as the story begins, he has never killed a Dev in the execution of his duties – which makes him unique.

Floyd hates his job, and sees the hypocrisy in the system he works for, and this eats away at him. To deal with it, he drinks, smokes and takes pills – all ceaselessly and immoderately. This kind of lifestyle leads to a blurred state of mind, part dream, part reality – but all, a living hell. Nearly all of his relationships end up bad, with both his love interest, a woman named ‘Laurel’ Canyon, being relocated (which is a polite way of saying she has been instutionalised as a suspected ‘Dev’), and a friend, a professional cricketer, taken away by the ‘Cricket Police’, for missing a training session.

The world, or all that is left of it – which is Melbourne – is essentially a police state, and the only thing that stops Floyd from being carted away, is that he is one of the policiers – and even then he appears to be walking a tightrope.

If your a fan of the series Department S (and why wouldn’t you be?), the chapter entitled ‘jack your kitsch up’ will delight you no end. Our hero, Floyd and his partner Hank, are preparing to go into Richmond area – which is now a no-go zone – to track down five heavily armed Devs. Along for the ride area television crew, to film the incursion. The television network covering this incursion is ITC. The reporter on the scene is a man named Montgomery Berman, the camera operator is Stew Sullivan and their assistant is a young girl called Anabelle. For those who don’t remember, Monty Berman was one of the creators of Department S (he was also a co-producer of The Saint, with Roger Moore). And in the series Department S, Stewart Sullivan was the name of the character played by Joel Fabiani, and Anabelle Hurst was played by Rosemary Nicols. You’re forgiven for not remembering Sullivan or Rosemary, as they were overshadowed by Peter Wyngarde as the flamboyant Jason King.

This operation opens up a new world for Floyd. Once the footage of the operation is shown on TV, he becomes a minor celebrity, and he is promoted to being what is called an ‘Observer’. An Observer watches operations from the wings, with news crews gathered around – and Floyd is expected to comment on the operations for the news services.

The villain of the piece is the head honcho for an evil big business conglomerate named Hylax – think ‘Big Brother’. His name is Wolram E. Deaps, which is an anagram of Marlowe Spade. Philip Marlowe being the battered hero in many of Raymond Chandler’s hard boiled mysteries, and Sam Spade being the hero of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Of course, both Marlowe and Spade were played by Humphrey Bogart in celebrated movies made in the 1940s.

As I suggested earlier, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is a retro pop culturist’s dream – and while that delighted me no end, and if you’ll forgive the self indulgence (and ego trip), I probably have watched and read more of the in-joke material referenced in the story than the majority of readers (and I am sure I missed some of the references). And therefore I would assume many other readers may find these references fly over their head, or at worst seem to be padding, or down right confusing. There is a glossary at the back, which outlines the many sources, but if you are not familiar with the source material to begin with, knowing its title, isn’t much good.

Some of you are probably wondering about the title itself, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat? It’s a line lifted from the movie That Certain Feeling, starring Bob Hope, Eva Marie Saint, and George Sanders. In the film, Sanders refers to a dog as a ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’. Said goat can be seen on the poster on the right.

So with that, I will leave it for you to decide. If you’re knowledgeable about George Sanders, Chandler, Bogart, Siamese Vodka, Hitchcock and more, then this may be the book you’re looking for. If not, you may find it confusing, and full of pointless chatter. I hope that makes sense?

You can find out more by clicking here.

Or you can order it online from Another Sky Press for $4.74 + P&H. Note, Another Sky has a great philosophy – providing a trade paperback at the cost price of production, but encouraging readers to “donate” more if they believe the artist behind the book deserves it.

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat

Circus of Fear (1966)

Director: John Moxley
Starring: Christopher Lee, Margaret Lee, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Klaus Kinski, Suzy Kendall, Cecil Parker, Victor Maddern, Maurice Kaufmann
Screenplay: Peter Welbeck
Producer: Harry Alan Towers
Music: Johnny Douglas
AKA: Psycho Circus

What we have in Circus Of Fear is a British (rather than German) Edgar Wallace Krimi, albeit with a rather ‘International’ cast so it can travel over borders quite effectively. It also has a quite effective story line – I never knew where it was heading. Sure there are plenty of hints, and you can guess where each story thread may be leading, bot how do they all tie up together?

The film opens in London, and on a nice big widescreen closeup of Klaus Kinski’s head. Klaus is standing on a dock overlooking the Thames. But he isn’t the only suspicious character loitering around. There are quite a few suspicious characters – there’s two on a boat, there’s a few in a car, and another two men standing by a bridge with stockings over their heads. I realise this is swingin’ sixties London, baby, but I don’t think these guys are dressed like this because they’re swingers! It looks like some kind of heist is going down.

It doesn’t take long for the object of everyone’s attention to appear on the screen. It’s a small armoured van carrying a shit load of cash (er, for those confused by my terminology, a ‘shit load’ is an Australian collective noun… It can be used for almost anything, but most often to describe a large amount of money and when purchasing dim sims – but I digress). As the van and escort vehicle pull up at the bridge, the two gents in stockings make short work of the guards. This is because one of the guards, Mason, is in on the gig. However, unlike the other crooks, Mason isn’t a professional and he panics. He draws a pistol and shoots one of the other guards. The heist has now gone from being a simple robbery to now, MURDER!

Meanwhile Klaus has gone from loitering with intent, to completing a bit of nasty work himself. He sneaks up on the fellow in charge of raising and lowering The London Bridge and clocks him over the head. Now in charge, Klaus raises the bridge. The other cohorts are now on the bridge and are tying a rope to the railing and attaching the other end to a boat waiting on the river below. Attaching rings to the sacks of cash, they slide their ill gotten gain down to the boat. Then the criminals follow suit, crawling down to the boat. As the police flood into the area, the perpetrators make their getaway slowly cruising down the Thames.

Once in the clear they all assemble at a warehouse. Mason, after his indiscretion is given his share of the loot, and the unseen boss man’s loot too. Mason has to meet the boss outside the city in a place called ‘The Old Farm’ at Inglemere. The other cohorts load a van up with the remaining cash an drive off. Unfortunately for them, the police receive an anonymous tip off revealing the route they’ll be taking and the vehicle licence plate. This results in a car chase, with the perpetrators eventually being run off the road.

This leaves Mason as the only man with any of the cash, and he arrives at his destination at The Old Farm. For his trouble, he ends up with a knife in his back. Now this is where the films changes tone. Inglemere also happens to be the winter location for Barbarini’s Circus. Immediately we are introduced to a new set of disparate characters. Firstly there is Barbarini who runs the circus. Then there’s Gregor (Christopher Lee). Gregor, some years back had a horrible accident and now always wears a black hooded mask. Hi is also the custodian of his neice, Natasha (Suzy Kendall) Then we have Gina (Margaret Lee) who performs a knife act with her insanely jealous boyfriend Mario, who, as you’ve guessed is a knife thrower. Next you’ve got Karl (Heinz Drache), who is the ringmaster.

Now it’s pretty obvious that someone associated with the circus has had a part in the robbery, but of course that isn’t revealed. But it’s not before long and some of the stolen money starts to surface. All the banks in the area have been notified of the serial numbers of the stolen money, and when some turns up, passed by Barbarini, Police Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn) is called in to investigate.

It’s not the purpose of this website to act as a shill for any particular video or DVD company, but if you are going to watch Circus Of Fear (or any of the other names this film has travelled under), then do yourself the favour and obtain the Blue Underground version – Previous versions have been severely truncated – in America the film was originally released at 61 minutes long and in black and white – needless to say, this will not do the film justice. Get the full version and enjoy the film for what it is – and that’s a hugely entertaining thriller with a great cast.

Circus of Fear (1966)