Flaming car onto Dover Beach or thereabouts the long way down from Brighton, owner lately covered by the Australian Life Assurance.

The rose-growing assessor “on a much smaller scale” has a fiddle of his own, scrimping on everything yet billing it all the same to the firm. He walks to the Grand from the station and thinks it “only fair” he be recompensed for the taxi ride he might have taken, what you might call London Assurance.

The station master near the scene of the crime evokes Varnel’s Oh, Mr. Porter! and no mistake.

There’s a reason for the assessor’s meanness, he has an invalid to care for at home, a moribund.

Nothing to do with insurance really, per the title. It takes a trip to the seaside to discover where one’s buried in the way of business, still and all, you like to get away a bit, don’t you.

Andrew Roberts of the BFI speaks of “the morass of British B-films” and finds here “fascinating period detail.”



The Great Rivers Circus provides entertainment in several shows from Liverpool to London. A murderer strikes, Scotland Yard send Detective Superintendent Brooks, and it’s rather like the papal procession interrupted by a shout of “fuck the Pope!” “My son,” says the Pope, “I am-a the servant of-a the servants of-a God, hundreds and-a hundreds of-a cardinals and-a bishops, tens of-a thousands of-a priests and-a nuns, and all the faithful everywhere in-a the world. Fuck-a me? Fuck-a you!”

The title is invoked at once in a high-wire act. A tightrope walker is a poet on his line, Blondin set up a cookstove over Niagara Falls and ate lunch. Here the wire frays and breaks (it has been cut), the funambulist is caught in a tangle and hanged (“give me three lines of a man’s handwriting,” says the Baron in Russell’s The Devils, “and I will hang him”).

The owner and ringmistress, Monica Rivers, sees this as good publicity, her partner wants out. The Magnificent Hawkins debuts his act (he has no agent, socks one who tries to blackmail him with a case of justifiable homicide in Toronto), “sixty feet above steel bayonets” barehanded with no balancing pole, and wearing a black hood over his head. The partner jealously watches his affair with the ringmistress, and is killed with a spike through his head.

Elephants ridden by girls form a gigantic horseshoe and star and tableau, Joseph the Wonder Elephant steps gingerly between six girls supine under the big top, and Monica tells Hawkins, “what we have is no more important than a greeting card, and sometimes less friendly.” The night of the second murder, she burns the partnership agreement. The frightened circus folk (even the Strong Man, he admits) suspect each other and Monica.

Commissioner Dalby is allergic to pollen and hence to Supt. Brooks’ boutonniere. The Saville Row suits and handmade shoes (he doesn’t drink or gamble) will have to go, Brooks is for Liverpool and an investigation. He steps out of his car, boutonniere and all, and into elephant dung. Bruno Fontana, a dwarf, offers a bit of lore, “supposed to be lucky.” Brooks takes over the partner’s caravan, has them all queue up outside for questioning (Bruno wears a clown’s bobby costume and smokes a cigar during his interview). Matilda, sawn each day in half by her husband Laszlo, makes a play for Hawkins and is repulsed the night before Brooks’ arrival.

Black ponies and gleaming horses wearing plumes cavort in the ring. Poodles race and leap, one takes the slack rope on hind feet. Monica and Hawkins doubt each other, she has told Brooks her partner was a business manager with no financial interest, he that his arrival was too late to witness the first accident. He wants to be her partner, she agrees. Her daughter Angela enters, expelled from a school for young ladies as “undisciplined” (smoking cigarettes, mocking teachers, hiding herself to cause a search). Matilda loudly suspects Monica of the crimes, sneers that Angela at least will be safe.

An aerial act with an outer-space motif, a woman upside-down on a vertical rope, a man dangling another from a bit in his teeth as she spins. Ingemar the Fearless in a cage with a lion and lionesses. Monica confronts Matilda, Supt. Brooks must question all, he says.

In solid red lighting, Laszlo saws Matilda in half with a large rotary blade. Commissioner Dalby himself inspects the crime scene, the trap beneath her midsection failed to open, two screws were removed. The circus travels to London in two days, there Monica will sign the contract with Hawkins, though she worries now the circus is jinxed. Angela fills in for the knife-thrower’s drunken wife.

London opens with a party for the artists thrown by Monica. Four of them perform a song, the Skeleton Man (whose wife left him to avoid bruises), the Bearded Lady, Bruno and the Strong Man, “It Might Be Me”.


Fall in love with your partner

And it might be me


Bumps in the night

Give you a fright

And it might be me


We’re plain folk

Ain’t no joke

Just look at your wife, boy

It might as well be me


Take a blind date

Go and gamble with fate

And it might be me


Walk in the park

Hear a voice in the dark

And it might be me


Take a chance

Find romance


It might as well be me


Beauty’s a fleeting and wispy thing

It fades like a moon in the sky

Make up your mind beauty’s only the rind

But it’s bacon that you want to buy


Walk up the aisle

Give me a smile

And it might be you


Angels will sing

As I slip on the ring

And it might be you


Keep your seat

Don’t retreat

I want me a partner

And it might as well be you


I want me a partner

And it might as well be—you?

Hawkins is to have “25% of the circus, and 100% of me.” Angela rues her mother’s inattention (her father died in a trapeze act). Scotland Yard have the first night covered.

The whole circus parades into the big top. In solid green lighting, Angela is spun on a vertical disk and every knife misses her. Hawkins takes the wire as before, then drops the hood and crosses with a balancing pole on a bicycle. Finally he stands upon a chair and is knifed in the back, sending him onto the bayonets. Angela glides down a rope to attack Monica. She had to destroy the circus, it killed her father and took away her mother. Supt. Brooks prevents this last murder, but she slips away and out of the big top into a lightning storm that kills her.

And so, where you might least expect it (and where Halliwell’s Film Guide finds “the script is beyond redemption”), you find “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” with reference to Sylvia Plath.



The Valley of Gwangi

A Ray Harryhausen show is an exercise in symbolic logic. His Dynamation can be measured against the lifeless models used in a few live-action shots, with one exception: O’Connolly shoots over a full-size head of Gwangi as James Franciscus ropes its muzzle, and you get a very satisfying frisson. Harryhausen does a variety of prehistoric creatures (eohippus, pterodactyl, triceratops, tyrannosaurus rex), and a modern elephant, with fascinating art.

Naturally, the director’s contribution is secondary, but O’Connolly opens with a coup. Franciscus appears in his tailored Western ensemble as visibly The Saint out West. South of the border at the turn of the century, he is inveigled to take a small boy into his service, and supervises Gila Golan’s act in the Wild West Show he travels with (she rides a horse off a tower into a water tank with a flaming rim).

The show has come into possession of a prehistoric horse (the eohippus), and sets off for more. The boy is seized from his horse like Ganymede by a pterodactyl, which is killed (and eaten by the tyrannosaurus rex). After various encounters, the tyrannosaurus is knocked unconscious (Richard Carlson as the head trouper heralds the capture, then notices one of his ropers is missing), then it’s brought back alive and displayed in a cage as Gwangi the Great. It escapes, sends the multitudes flying, and is trapped apocalyptically in a burning cathedral.

It all begins with an old bruja‘s imprecation. The thematic elements are a variant of King Kong evidently geared to Mexico.


Crooks and Coronets

How like a picture of Her Majesty’s Government this is, one might fancy. Came to rob, stayed to shoot craps.