The famed Clyde Beatty Circus becomes a terrifying entertainment venue as it suffers a series of apparent accidents - mishaps that are actually the deadly acts of a determined saboteur. Circus impresario and famed animal trainer Clyde Beatty plays himself in this whodunit set under the Big Top. Celebrated mystery writer Mickey Spillane (as himself) arrives on the scene and attempts to solve the baffling case.
If you're a sucker for the big top--and specifically if you're a sucker for the cornball melodrama of The Greatest Show on Earth
--you might be the audience for Ring of Fear
, an obvious knock-off of Cecil B. DeMille's Oscar-winner. Otherwise, it would take not just sawdust in the blood but sawdust in the head to enjoy this silly suspense movie. It's set in the Clyde Beatty Circus, and the illustrious Mr. Beatty (a famed lion-tamer in his day) gets top billing--although his is by no means the central performance. A lunatic (Sean McClory, apparently wearing Charlton Heston's jacket and hat from Greatest Show
) escapes from prison in order to stalk a former flame, circus trapeze artist Marian Carr. In a bizarre plot twist, the famous writer of hard-boiled novels, Mickey Spillane, arrives at the circus to research a story and ends up investigating the strange acts of sabotage that are dogging the big top. (A truly wonderful flashback informs us that not only has McClory returned to the circus to win back the aerialist, he also wants revenge on Beatty, who once laughed at him for showing cowardice in the presence of a jungle cat.) Mickey Spillane plays himself, and although he can't act much he gives a nice presentation of a 1950s hep cat. Supposedly Spillane worked on some of the dialogue; one hopes he wrote his own gotcha to the villain, "Your eyes... they belong to a homicidal maniac." Lots of footage is devoted to Beatty snapping his whip at lions and tigers in his act, but other than that there's surprisingly little circus action. The John Wayne-Robert Fellows company (later known as Batjac) produced this one, which is in good, early CinemaScope. --Robert Horton