Tag Archives: Joan Crawford

Berserk (1967)

“It’s a good thing you’re inhuman.”

In the tawdry thriller, Berserk Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) owns the Great Rivers Circus. Business isn’t booming, but when circus performers start dropping like flies, the crowds start flocking in for a repeat performance. Soon Scotland Yard assigns a policeman, the dapper Superintendent Brooks (Robert Hardy) to question the circus employees, and stay on site until he’s solved the case.

Joan Crawford was in her mid 60s when she made Berserk, and she isn’t shy about slipping into her circus costume and showing off those terrific legs. Monica Rivers is a powerful, cold-hearted businesswoman, and while she has lovers amongst the circus crowd, she doesn’t let her dalliances interfere with the running of the circus. Business manager, Dorando (Michael Gough) is jealous of the strapping new trapeze artist, Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin). Hawkins is quick to curry favour with Monica Rivers. While she isn’t averse to his hunky attentions, Monica still manages to keep Hawkins on a short leash. Monica’s mothering instinct is revealed when her daughter Angela (Judy Geeson) arrives after being expelled from her boarding school.

Berserk is cleverly sequenced. Horrible, grisly murders–with close ups of the victims’ faces–occur as various circus acts are rigged for disaster. With acts such as the high wire trapeze, knife throwers, lion tamers, etc, the opportunities for disaster are great. The tension runs high as the circus acts open, and harmless and charming acts take place (the Intelligent Poodles, for example). Then high-risk acts commence, and we wait for the next murder to occur. The circus audience (which has grown larger with the news of each death) waits with baited breath and anticipated ghoulish delight as each act opens. It’s a wicked, dark sense of humour indeed that creates grisly murder scenes within the magical anticipation of the circus

Berserk is very cheesy and has a moderate camp appeal. There’s a bearded lady at the circus, and the sexy Matilda (Diana Dors) gets into a girl fight with slaps exchanged and some great name-calling. On the negative side, the plot introduces a couple of red herrings that are never explained, and after the film’s sensationalistic conclusion, the red herrings remain unexplored. Also some of the circus act scenes drag on interminably. Joan Crawford fans won’t be able to resist, but Berserk is only moderately entertaining

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Mommie Dearest (1981)

 “This was before Prozac.”

mommieBased on the best seller by Christina Crawford, the film version of Mommie Dearest casts Faye Dunaway as the neurotic, deeply troubled Joan Crawford. The film doesn’t cover much of Joan’s career, but instead follows the book’s premise, showing life through the eyes of Joan’s adopted daughter, Christine.

The film includes some excellent scenes of the children being trouped out for official (and completely fake) photographs. In real life, Joan actually adopted four children, but only two appear in the film. Faye Dunaway is incredible in this role, and at times I had to remind myself that this was Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford, and not the ‘real’ thing. Could anyone have possibly played a better Joan Crawford? I doubt it. This is great fun for fans of Joan (it’s almost as good as watching one of her wonderful films), and those who love Camp won’t be disappointed either. Joan, who always portrayed tough, indestructible women, is shown here in a way the cameras didn’t get to see–the obsessive cleaner, the consummate perfectionist, the “control freak” and the dreadful mother. This is hardly a flattering portrait of Joan Crawford, but somehow I don’t think Crawford fans have too much of a problem seeing her this way. I didn’t particularly enjoy the book Mommie Dearest for many reasons, but I did enjoy the film.

This Special Collector’s Edition is worth every penny. Watch Mommie Dearest all the way through and then watch it with the witty and wise commentary by John Waters. Since John Waters is my guru on many matters, I also wanted to get his interpretation of events. His analysis of both the film–and the relationship between Christine and Joan–were perfect. It’s interesting to see which scenes and which lines he considers ‘over the top’ (keep in mind that this is coming from the director of Pink Flamingos). He has plenty of comments to make about Faye Dunaway’s outfits, her eyebrows and those infamous wire hangers. He argues that the part of Joan Crawford was the “first drag queen role played by a woman.” He points out that many things Christina suffered through were “normal” events for the times, but at the same time, he states that Joan should never have considered motherhood. He argues that Joan Crawford gave Christine “more than most mothers and made her pay for it more than most mothers.”

DVD extras include “Life with Joan”, “The Revival of Joan” and “Joan Lives on”, a photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer.

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