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Ring of FearRing of Fear on DVD

Call it a "Greatest Show on Earth" wannabe and you're not too far off the mark.

Ring of Fear brings to the screen a kind of behind the scenes look at life in the Clyde Beatty Circus of the early 1950's a three ring big top extravaganza of thrills and chills. And it "enhances" that with a plot line designed to keep us on the edge of our seats. Or not.

It's murder and intrigue, in this case, as escaped mental patient Dublin O'Malley (Sean McClory) heads back to the circus for which he'd worked before World War II got in the way, scheming to get revenge on showman/lion tamer extraordinaire Beatty (playing himself) while winning back the trapeze artiste (Marian Carr) who he loved but who's now a married mother.

O'Malley talks his way back into a job as ring manager shortly after some mysterious accidents start happening to the circus and its folk. Since the problems predated his arrival, even though he was behind them, he's initially not suspected by Beatty and his manager (Pat O'Brien). But someone's behind the troubles, so Beatty (no, he wasn't really known as "Clawed" Beatty, so far as we know) brings in famed mystery writer Mickey Spillane (played by himself – and not too successfully) to track down the perpetrator.

Why bring in a writer instead of the cops? Well, we have to confess if a reason was given we missed it among the scintillating dialogue and action. And Spillane on his own wasn't up to the task, so he brings in an undercover cop to help out. With the investigation, not the explanation....

During the extremely predictable action we get to see some circus performers in action, though not nearly as much as might be expected or desired by the long list of circus stars listed in the opening credits. But we do get to see quite a bit of Beatty in action, and his animal act was very good.

Sean McClory is the best thing about the movie, as the other real actors are mostly wasted (including Kenneth Tobey, star of the original "The Thing", who's limited to a walk on) and most of the cast is made up of non-actors playing themselves or caricatures of themselves. McClory's pretty good as the homicidal maniac putting on a "sane" face for the world, but the events of the script serve to undermine him as well, since it's so predictable you've figured things out long before he or the rest of the players have.

It's too bad. If you're looking for a good circus movie, this ain't it. Greatest Show on Earth, for all its flaws, is a much better movie, and a much, much better circus epic.

Ring of Fear is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV enhanced, but the picture is grainy and the color seems over done in many places. Reds stand out in particular, not because they're great but because they're smeary.

The audio isn't bad, though. It's presented in either two or four channel surround and though we didn't notice any surround we did enjoy the multi channel use across the front. It won't win any awards, though.

Extras? Forget it. There's nuttin', honey.

Ring of Fear, from Paramount Home Entertainment
93 minutes, 2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital
Starring Sean McClory, Clyde Beatty, Mickey Spillane, Pat O'Brien
Produced by Robert M. Fellows
Written by Paul Fix, Philip MacDonald, James Edward Grant, directed by James Edward Grant

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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