CIRCUS OF FEAR / FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS (Blu-ray) (Blue Underground, June 28 2016) $29.98 1966(91 min.),1967 (104min.) color. 2 films on one disc.
BLUE UNDERGROUND has gone all out with their restorations of obscure but fun films that deserve to be in your collection. This current release of CIRCUS OF FEAR (1966) and FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS (1967) continues their winning streak of superlative quality restorations.
Billed as an EDGAR WALLACE DOUBLE FEATURE, the Wallace connection is tenuous at best.
Writer Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a prolific writer of plays, newspaper articles, short stories, and novels. He was also a screenplay writer, writing the script for the 1932 HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Gainsborough,1932). He died of diabetes in 1932 while he was working on the original story that developed into KING KONG(RKO,1933). Besides working on KING KONG, he is best remembered for his numerous crime dramas, which, unlike so many of his contemporaries, made the Police the hero, rather than amateur sleuths.
His works had been very popular in Germany in the late 1920s until the early 1930s. A few of his stories had been adapted into very popular films. However, when the Nazis came into power, his works were banned.
However, from 1959 to 1972, German “krimi” (an abbreviation for the German term “Kriminalfilm”) were extremely popular in Germany and several other European nations, especially if the name EDGAR WALLACE were somehow stuck onto the poster or/and film.
Harry Alan Towers was the ultimate globe hopping film producer, producing films of various quality and subject matters from 1962 up until his death in 2009, putting together deals in various countries with international funding.
This collection more rightly should be named an “Harry Alan Towers” double feature, but I am sure that there will be more films to come that might earn that title.
First up is CIRCUS OF FEAR (1966). I recall seeing this film in a theatrical release. It must have been in Ireland where I saw it, because I do recall it being in color. In the U.S. when it was released in 1967, it was cut to a short 65 minutes, retitled PSYCHO-CIRCUS (A.I.P.), and printed in black and white. What has always stood out in my memory was the opening caper, a daring day time robbery on Tower Bridge that led to an escape along the Thames as a mournful jazz score fills the soundtrack.
Seeing the film on BLUE UNDERGROUND’s cleaned up new Blu Ray (I do not have access to their 2003 DVD release as a comparison) is a revelation. I always recall the film being very muddy with very dark color. This print has very vibrant imagery with a wonderful sharp sound track.
The film is supposedly based upon the 1926 novel “The Three Just Men “by Edgar Wallace. I say ‘supposedly” as the film resembles nothing in the novel at all (to see for yourself, read it at
The “Just Men” series began originally in 1905 as “The FOUR Just Men”, and concerned a group of men who punished wrong doers in ways that are outside of conventional law enforcement. One of the characters “died” during the first world war, but they continued on, recruiting others along the way.
Nothing in the film smacks of the books storyline, but the producers chose to sell the film as a Wallace adaptation.
The film’s story has a gang commit a darng robbery with the help of one of the guards, Mason (Victor Maddern, best known here as the deformed Hunchback assistant Carl in BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (Artistes Alliance/U.I. 1958)) and flee with their loot but only after Mason shoots the second guard.
The police, led by Scotland Yard Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn, very impressive in the 1965 TEN LITTLE INDIANS (Warner -Pathe/Seven Arts), also produced by H.A. Towers) and Detective-Sgt. Manley (Lawrence James, who starred in the original ITV Play of the Week “The Night of the Big Heat “, June 14,1960, later made into a theatrical film starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), are quick on the scene and after the gang. Two of the gang in a van are chased by police cars until the driver loses control and crashes. One man dies but the survivor tells the police that the guard was murdered by Mason.
The other surviving gang members (including a very ratty looking Klaus Kinski, star of many a Krimi since 1960’s THE AVENGER/ Der Rächer; Kurt Ulrich Filmproducktion) are none too happy with Mason. However, Mason is told to bring the unseen mastermind’s share of the loot to another lonely location. Upon arriving, Mason is swiftly dispatched by a knife tossed with deadly accuracy. The camera dollies to a close-up of the dagger’s hilt that displays a silver triangle upon it, a mark that is to play an important role in the unfolding mystery.
Twenty minutes into the film and we jump suddenly to Barberini’s Circus (actually Billy Smart’s Circus, which also had appeared previously in CIRCUS OF HORRORS (Anglo -Amalgamated /A.I.P.,1960,) and later BERSERK(WB,1967)). The circus plays into our story as we discovered that the spot where Mason was murdered was their winter quarters and the police wish to investigate to see if one of the performers is involved in the heist. Kinski, playing a character named Manfred, also shows up at the circus, ostensibly to seek work, so the gang is thinking along similar lines.
Among the many suspects are Christopher Lee (need I say who he is ?)as Gregor , a lion tamer whose features are supposedly destroyed from an animal attack, thus requiring him to wear a black hood at all times, and “Skip” Martin as Mr. Big ( Hop Toad from MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (A.I.P.,1964) as well as being very evil as Michael in VAMPIRE CIRCUS (Hammer/Fox 1972),as well as the lovely Suzy Kendall (BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE,UMC,1970) and Margaret Lee (THE BLOODY JUDGE ,AIP ,1972 also produced and written by H.A. Towers). More mayhem ensues before the killer and leader of the crime gang is uncovered.
This is an entertaining programmer that moves along at a brisk pace, courtesy of its director John Moxey (HORROR HOTEL, Vulcan/Trans-Lux,1960). Done for a modest budget, it doesn’t skimp on the mystery or the thrills, though it would be wrong to label this film as a horror, which it is often referred to, due to the presence of Lee, Kinski, and director Moxey.
Besides giving us a brand spanking new Blu-Ray transfer of the film in 2K 1080p HD anamorphically enhanced 1.66:1 widescreen, the English DTS-HD audio is clean clear and crackle free. The removable subtitles are quite easy to read, and replicate the dialogue fairly accurately.
Now this alone would have been enough to recommend buying this Blu Ray, but BLUE UNDERGROUND has added a few nice extras.
First is a commentary track with director Moxey that is moderated by David Gregory. This 2002 session is ported over from the 2003 DVD release. Moxey and Gregory have a nice conversational tone, with the director quietly and modestly describing the making of the film. Nice little tid bits of shooting on a Sunday to avoid traffic problems (good luck doing that on a film shoot now) on the bridge and his opinions of working with the international cast and crew (very complimentary) as well as clearing up the mistaken belief that there were TWO directors on this film. There are long stretches without any commentary, as I feel that the director had not reviewed the film prior to recording his comments. Still, he is a delight and it is wonderful that we can have his thoughts about a film that was 37 years in his past.
(“Wait ! I lost my hood!”)
Also as extras we get the international trailer as well as the B&W American trailer, the different ways both trailers sell the film is funny and interesting. Finally, there is a still and poster gallery.
The Second film on this Blu Ray is FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS (AIP,1967). This is one of those films that try to emulate better movies but doesn’t quite make it. Here, it is Robert Cummings as a man who is mistakenly drawn into international murder and intrigue, a la Cary Grant in NORTH BY NORTHWEST (MGM ,1959). Sadly, the film doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s leisurely pace make its limited budget seem more obvious. Still it gives many aging actors a chance to have a nice vacation in Hong Kong courtesy of Producer Harry Alan Towers.
Here, once again using his Peter Welbeck nom de film, the producer doesn’t so much as reference any particular Wallace book as a character that he created.
In 1911, Wallace wrote ‘Sanders of The River “, about the adventures of District Commissioner Sanders. Sanders appeared in a total of 12 novels between 1911 and 1928 (“Again Sanders”) The character was the very epitome of the great British White hunter/soldier /adventurer who sadly seemed to be too the very worst of Colonial Africa’s white man helping the poor savages.
(Sanders NEVER went up the river with companions like these!)
Rupert Davies’ character in the film is Police Commissioner Sanders, so that was enough to convince investors that yes this was another Edgar Wallace tale.
The film opens in Hong Kong with a character named Porter (uncredited) who swiftly is tossed off a balcony by Gert (Klaus Kinski again). Unfortunately, Porter has sent off a note to be delivered to Bob Mitchell (Robert Cummings, from Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER, WB,1954). The police intercept the note and go to interview Mitchell, who claims that he knows little about the dead man other than a brief meeting in Manila. He also doesn’t know the meaning of the note with the words “Feel The Bern” (Just kidding – it read ‘Five Golden Dragons”).
However, two German sisters, Ingrid (Maria Rohm, THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU (Warners-7 Arts,1967) and real life wife of producer Towers) and Margret (Maria Peschy, THE CASTLE OF FU MANCHU, Anglo -EMI/Int Cinema Group 1972) that he meets do know it’s meaning. Margret thinks Bob is there to kill them so she tries to beat him to the punch. When Bob convinces her that he knows nothing about the phrase, she explains that she used to work for the crime cartel known as The Five Golden Dragons. When they killed her boyfriend, she fled, and feared that they had now found her.
(Do you feel warm in here?)
We next see the leaders of the illegal gold syndicate meeting in ridiculous dragon masks and Asian robes. Each sits at a table facing a multi doored miniature pagoda. They each have a key to open the door in front of them, and should they be a fake and not open it properly, a gun within will shoot the imposter. Removing their masks, we see that the first three are actors who have seen better days :
Dan Duryea (SCARLET STREET, Universal ,1945),
George Raft (SCARFACE, United Artists,1932),
and Brian Donlevy (THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, Hammer/U.A. 1955). Dragon #4 is played by Christopher Lee (also from CIRCUS OF FEAR, and probably getting sick of wearing these masks). The fifth Dragon remains a mystery.
Meanwhile, Margret IS found dead and sadly for Bob Mitchell it is in his bed. He escapes but now he is being pursued by Shakespeare quoting Police Commissioner Sanders (the wonderful Rupert Davies, the disapproving Monsignor from DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, Hammer/WB, 1968) and his Chinese counterpart Inspector Chiao (Roy Chiao ,whose career involved him dubbing a lot of Hong Kong films into English).
Bob finds himself at the Blue World, a nightclub managed by a sinister Peterson (Sieghardt Rupp, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, U.A.1964). He is intrigued by the lovely chanteuse Magda (Margaret Lee, another CIRCUS OF FEAR alum). Bob thinks that these two can lead him to the Five Golden Dragons, and they do, but not in the way he would like.
Another multi nation co-production, this film is trying to be a Hitchcock thriller, James Bond spoof, and crime caper spoof, and fails miserably at all.
(Klaus Kinksi demonstrating his actual dating techniques )
Bob Cummings is supposedly a young playboy but the actor at the time was in his fifties. He looks good admittedly, but it still seems odd that all these women fall for him. Did Hong Kong have a dearth of younger actors? Was Frankie Avalon too busy to walk over from the set of THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU (AIP,1967) that Towers was also producing at the same time in Hong Kong and seemingly used many of the same sets. Supposedly the lead was offered to actor Tony Randall (who starred in OUR MAN IN MARRAKESH (AIP, Anglo- Amalgamated,1966) for Towers, who turned him down. Cummings was an actor of great personal charm in many of his films but he seems very uncomfortable and forced here (though whether that is him the direction or the script it is hard to determine). This was in fact his last theatrical film, with less and less work on television.
The plot makes very little sense and our hero contributes almost nothing to the story, with the police actually doing all the real work.
The transfer is quite lovely to look at in its new HD anamorphic transfer. Subtitles are clear and easy to read and follow the action well. Extras are scarce here except for a photo gallery and an original trailer.
Of the two films on this disc, CIRCUS OF FEAR is definitely the more enjoyable movie. For one, it moves! Still, for the price, BLUE UNDERGROUND is keeping B movie fans in Blu Ray heaven. A major studio would never invest the time and energy that BLUE UNDERGROUND has given to releases like this and so they are to be commended.
CIRCUS OF FEAR– recommended.
FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS– nice restoration. Recommended for completist. Look at it as a really cool extra for CIRCUS OF FEAR.
-Kevin G Shinnick