Friday, May 23, 2014

Maybe Kangaroos

Reading that biography of John Wayne, I was particularly mesmerized by the allusions to a movie produced by John Wayne, a brainchild of his boozy sidekick Jimmy Grant, a circus movie starring Mickey Spillane as himself - RING OF FEAR! It says something about me that I also watched ISLAND IN THE SKY, a very interesting John Wayne movie that starts out interesting and just gets more and more interesting as it goes along, a really fine movie, and yet I have no desire to "blog" about it. I'd much rather "blog" about RING OF FEAR, which is, as I just informed you, a circus movie starring Mickey Spillane. As himself! Many spoilers follow, ha ha. RING OF FEAR begins with thudding timpani and roaring lions. The theme song goes, "Here comes the circus/ Marching down the street/ Hear that thrilling beat/ The band... the band... the band is playing, Yay!" and that's the whole song. (See also.) The narrator lists all the animals in the circus, ending his litany with "maybe kangaroos." Maybe! Sounds ominous. Then we cut to a big, scary sign: STATE MENTAL INSTITUTION, and a guy saying, "I tell you I'm not crazy, gentlemen." We're less than 5 minutes in! Oh boy! Then the guy says something I didn't quite catch about "building a fence around the universe." He's in trouble for talking to a picture of a "circus girl." Then he escapes! I thought they were setting him up to be sympathetic but then he tossed a random guy under an oncoming train, so I guess not. He meets up with his pal, a guy named Twitchy. I thought I had that wrong until a surly clown said, "Twitchy must be hitting the bottle again," thereby confirming the name Twitchy. Twenty-five minutes in, here's Mickey Spillane for some reason. Somebody says, "Say, ain't you Mickey Spillane?" Spillane mumbles, "Yeah, that's right." Poor Mickey! As an actor he doesn't even seem convinced of his own name. He does walk around with copies of his new paperback in his jacket pocket and hand them out to strangers. Lots of circus acts in this movie. I hate to see them taunting the tigers with the whip and the chair, though, so I fast forwarded through that stuff, I must admit (though to come clean I enjoyed it - very guiltily - when some elephants danced to "Turkey in the Straw" - God have mercy!). Twitchy is a drunk clown, like so many sad clowns before him, but I wasn't sure I could safely categorize him as a sad clown until I saw that he was being blackmailed for murder. That would make anybody sad! Now we meet, for a few sparkling moments, an acrobat named Tiny. Boy, I liked her. Her "bum" of a husband works part-time as a department-store Santa. Golly, I would have watched a whole movie about them! But that's all we get of Tiny. Mickey Spillane calls somebody "a windy character" and Pat O'Brien responds, "Yeah, he's windy and he's a character." I am not sure what that exchange of dialogue got us! The sword swallower wants peppermint polish for her swords because her swords taste so terrible. (Hey, I've got eight pages of notes here.) She has a weird way of introducing herself: "Hello, Mr. Spillane, are you married?" Mickey says, "It slips my mind at the moment," a pretty good Mickey Spillane line, but the incongruous set-up is unforgivable. I have here in my notes that Mickey Spillane chews gum and squints. Half an hour in or so I find out that the crazy madman is named "Dublin O'Malley." He's Irish, by the way. Meanwhile, back at the circus! A clown comes out holding an umbrella. Cut to the crowd laughing hysterically. Cut back to the clown holding his umbrella. A clown holding an umbrella really seems to get to everybody. (See also.) By an hour in, Dublin O'Malley seems kind of like an interesting, complicated psychopath, or am I going soft? (Also about an hour in, a kangaroo actually appears - a kangaroo with, forgive me for saying so, surprisingly prominent testicles.) I did enjoy watching Mickey Spillane eat an ice cream cone. It seemed authentic. Was he getting more comfortable onscreen? Or was I getting more full of rye? Around this time, for example, I started thinking of the actor who played Dublin O'Malley as a poor man's Orson Welles, which is funny, because Dr. Theresa, who was in the next room and not even paying attention, later told me that she thought he sounded just like Orson Welles in LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Suddenly Mickey Spillane is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Later, he will put on a tight sweater, too, before suddenly reverting to the usual baggy jacket, loose tie, and fedora. Turns out Twitchy used to be an aerialist, which reminded me of something that Bill Taft once said to me in a circus performers' graveyard. Dublin has a long, intricate monologue describing death by cyanide to Twitchy and yes, this scene clinches it, Twitchy is a super sad clown. Dublin O'Malley drowns that clown! Reaction shots of disapproving circus animals! Pat O'Brien gives a deadpan read of the immortal line, "Valerie, I'm sorry. We just got news that Dublin is a kill-happy maniac." Dublin is eaten by a tiger, cutting immediately to a song about the circus being "a magic wonderland" of "angels and clowns." THE END