Review: Edgar Wallace Presents – Circus of Fear / Director: John Llewellyn Moxey / Screenplay: Harry Alan Towers, Edgar Wallace / Starring: Christopher Lee, Klaus Kinski, Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, Heinz Drache, Eddi Arent, Skip Martin, Margaret Lee, Suzy Kendall / Released: September 23rd
One of the great things about a '60s Anglo-German thriller is the fact that you can find so many of the best British and German scenery-chewers in one place. When Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski start going head-to-head, the scenery must start to feel very nervous indeed.
Circus of Fear (1966) is based on an Edgar Wallace novel and, for a short movie (although the disc also features the long version), has rather a lot going on in it. It starts with a brilliantly shot heist and the incomprehensibly thrilling spectacle of a car chase on a '60s motorway (why is that so exciting?). Some of the loot ends up hidden at a circus where no one is quite what they seem and things start to get a bit complicated. It’s got escaped lions, underachieving clowns and even a blackmailing dwarf (brilliantly played by the incomparable Skip Martin). Bodies soon start turning up and, guess what, they’ve all been dispatched with throwing knives. Of course they have. What’s not to like?
The circus setting is perfect for the multi-national cast as they come across as a genuinely exotic bunch with a few hard-to-place accents. One of those mysterious accents belongs to the not-so-mysterious Gregor, a lion tamer so hideously disfigured that he covers his face with a mask at all times. Unfortunately, at 6’5” and with the most recognisable voice in the history of cinema, this might not have been the best use of Christopher Lee; it’s like sticking a moustache and glasses on Godzilla. Big Chris should be flaunted; never put a bag on his head. On the other hand we can’t think of a more convincing lion tamer; he just talks at them and they go sheepishly back to their cages. Of course, being the '60s, rather a lot of cigarettes are smoked and you’ll also be pleased to hear that, as Klaus Kinski never removes his from his mouth, he is, as hard as it might be to imagine, even more incomprehensible than usual. Somehow it just makes him all the more menacing and he certainly looks the part.
In the end this is just a rather fun whodunit with most of the cast as potential culprits. Call us slow but the reveal was a genuine surprise to us. For the more studious, the film is also a fascinating link in the career of director John Llewellyn Moxey. He directed Christopher Lee in the rather excellent City of the Dead (1960) a few years earlier but he ultimately became best known for his TV work with anything from Kung Fu to Murder, She Wrote. In Circus of Fear you can actually see the transition of style between the two genres.
Network have done their usual sterling job of the transfer. It’s entertaining; it’s interesting and the dwarf is called Mr Big (our sides are hurting). You need more convincing than that? OK, it’s got Margaret Lee and Suzy Kendall in it. Are you people ever satisfied?
Extras: Short and long version / Alternate German ending / Trailers / Image gallery