CIRCUS OF FEAR: What begins as a daring daylight armored car heist on London's Tower Bridge leads to a sinister circus where a disfigured lion tamer is one of several suspects in a three-ring nightmare of red herrings, grisly 'accidents' and cold-blooded murder.
FIVE GOLDEN DRAGONS: After arriving in Hong Kong, wealthy American playboy Bob Mitchell is the recipient of a strange note found on the body of a dead man. A clue to an illegal gold-trafficking operation, Mitchell is unwittingly thrust into a deadly power struggle between a secretive global crime syndicate and brutal local mobsters.
Circus of Fear
Despite being the headlining act in 'Circus of Fear,' Christopher Lee is never actually seen on screen until the last quarter of the movie. That's not to suggest he doesn't make an appearance, because he most certainly does. Rather, the legendary icon of horror spends a majority of the runtime wearing a black, woolly mask, delivering the production's best and most solemn performance with his signature sinister glare. In this wildly amusing 1966 bank heist whodunnit, Mr. Lee plays a lion tamer who had been horribly disfigured in a fire some years prior to joining the popular Barberini's Circus in London. Though it's never made clear if he wears the mask for the public's sake or for fear of frightening the lions, audiences will immediately jump at the opportunity of thinking Lee's Gregor as the likely mastermind behind an armored car robbery seen at the film's start. Then again, director John Llewellyn Moxey ('The City of the Dead') goes to extraordinary efforts in convincing viewers and other characters of this, diverting our attention away from the real culprit like a true magician, which in all honesty, is the movie's final red-herring joke.
Loosely based on one of The Four Just Men adventures by Edgar Wallace ('King Kong'), Moxey employs every trick of the trade to redirect our suspicions onto the masked circus performer. Gregor is seen taking wads of money out a suitcase in a few scenes and continuously acting nervous around others, as though hiding more than just his face. Apparently, Mr. Lee's devilish beady eyes are not enough to scare or distance any of the other circus performers, particularly a little person ironically named Mr. Big (Skip Martin), who's extorting Gregor in exchange for keeping a secret. And this is where the film manages to entertain. While the larger mystery continues to run its course in the background, the melodrama and internal politics of Barberini's (Anthony Newlands) troupe keeps audiences invested. Other than Mr. Big, Gregor is also harassed by the big-top's ring leader Carl (Heinz Drache) while beautiful acrobat Gina (Margaret Lee) fears for her well-being at the hands of her abusive boyfriend, knife-throwing extraordinaire Mario (Maurice Kaufmann). And for comedy relief, the show's resident clown Eddie (Eddi Arent) is incessantly trying new routines at the expense of Mr. Big's dignity.
However amusing as those bits of diversion are at distracting viewers though, Moxey keeps the central focus of the plot in plain view. The point continues on solving the mystery of who in the circus masterminded the robbery, and the man leading the charge in uncovering the real criminal is Scotland Yard detective Elliot (Leo Genn). A clever and engagingly charismatic sleuth who fancies himself a Sherlock Holmes type, the character works at a sloth-like pace, piecing the clues together patiently and methodically while beaming a wickedly shrewd smile as though analyzing all the possible suspects. Aside from Mr. Lee, Genn is tremendously enjoyable to watch, a brilliant blend of all-business seriousness with a humorous tone layered just beneath. Klaus Kinski also runs away to join the circus as the mysterious and socially awkward Manfred Hart. Though his role is to essentially put pressure on quickly solving the crime because he too is on the trail for the suitcase full of cash, Kinski's presence sadly feels tacked on, a last minute addition that adds little to the overall plot and never shares any screen time with Mr. Lee. Nevertheless, the three-ring circus puts on a great show for fans of crime mystery thrillers. (Movie Rating: 3.5/5)
Five Golden Dragons
The late great Christopher Lee followed up his three-ring performance in 'Circus of Fear' with a stranger behind the scenes portrayal in Jeremy Summers' 'Five Golden Dragons,' trading the lion-taming whip and Russian accent for a golden dragon's mask and a deadly secret society that rules over Hong Kong. And much like he did in that movie, the iconic actor doesn't make an appearance until the last quarter of the film where he mostly just glares and suspiciously scowls at the other men sitting at a round table inside a vibrantly red room. In fact, he takes a step back from being the main attraction and takes a guest star credit for his role as one of five mysterious men who control the seedy underworld of organized crime. And just as before, Klaus Kinski plays a curiously cryptic hitman with a penchant for torturing his victims. His connection to a sudden surge in criminal activities, which includes the murder of a man with a black suitcase, remains unknown for a big portion of the runtime. And once again, the two much-loved actors are never allowed to share the screen, which is rather unfortunate but nothing ultimately to gripe about.
The real star of this British action comedy is the always witty and charming Bob Cummings of 'The Devil and Miss Jones' and 'Dial M for Murder' fame. His role and connection to the clandestine society known as the "Five Golden Dragons" is also intentionally ambiguous until the final act, but even then, we're still never certain of his involvement. Other than perhaps being a case of mistaken identity because his name was mentioned by the man with the black suitcase, who in the opening moments was seen plummeting to his death from the top floor of a hotel. As the vacationing American businessman Bob Mitchell, he's really an unwitting participant sucked into Hong Kong's underbelly at the brink of a massive turf war. And somehow Summers ('The Vengeance of Fu Manchu,' 'The House of 1,000 Dolls') manages to make this work with Cummings doing excellently as a kind of bumbling dolt with the most extraordinary luck. The character is essentially an inept spy who clumsily stumbles from one clue to the next and just happens to meet the right people, yet he talks with an amusingly clownish suaveness that reveals a hidden layer of confidence in his ability to cynically talk himself out of any situation.
Sadly, in spite of Summers' strong direction and Cummings' delightful performance, the borderline espionage caper does come with its share of minor drawbacks. The script from Peter Welbeck, which is a pseudonym for independent filmmaker Harry Alan Towers ('Fu Manchu' series, 'Count Dracula'), fuses several genres into what basically amounts to a crime mystery thriller and never really commits to one, throwing various bits of comedy, ranging from witty one-liners to physical pratfalls with wacky musical cues, at the screen hoping something will stick. As the movie slowly drags along, the story starts introducing more characters, many of whom function as stock plot device or simply out of convenience. Maria Rohm's Ingrid goes from casual acquaintance at the hotel to the damsel in distress and eventual love interest, and cult genre favorite Margaret Lee is the gorgeous femme fatale Magda who unsurprisingly delivers the requisite acts of seduction and deception. And although Sieghardt Rupp does the usual bad guy shtick with an obvious sinister style, 'Five Golden Dragons' remains a fun, easy enough romp that doesn't demand much of its audience. (Movie Rating : 3/5)
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Blue Underground brings 'Circus of Fear/Five Golden Dragons' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc housed in the standard blue keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static screen where users choose between the two films, and after making a selection, viewers are taken to the usual selection of menu options with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Circus of Fear
Made from the original camera negative and scanned at 2K resolution, the AVC-encoded transfer of the big top caper arrives with an often stunning, near-reference video presentation. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the picture displays a sumptuous array of colors. While primaries are vivid and richly-saturated, secondary hues are glowing and lively, filling the screen with warmth and energy. With accurate flesh tones, facial complexions appear lifelike with excellent textural details in close-ups. Fine lines and objects are very well-defined and revealing. Hairs and animal fur are razor-sharp, and clothing shows the distinct stitching in the fabric. Pitch-perfect contrast and clean, crisp whites provide the film with a punchy, revitalized feel, and black levels are true with dark, penetrating shadows, giving the image a wonderful three-dimensional quality. Only issue keeping it from a perfect score are several moments looking a bit too smooth, suggesting the light application of noise reduction. (Video Rating: 4.5/5)
Five Golden Dragons
Like the previous movie, the action comedy arrives with a splendid 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that was made from a new remaster of the original camera negatives. At times, the transfer looks so good, it almost gives the impression of being a recent production, showing clean, fine lines in buildings and various pieces of furniture. The unique design in the fabric of clothing is amazingly distinct, and facial complexions come with lifelike textures, exposing individual pores, wrinkles and very minor blemishes. The color palette is rich and full-bodied with secondary hues looking particularly vibrant while primaries are sumptuous, keeping things lively and highly attractive. Spot-on contrast energizes the entire presentation, allowing for excellent visibility into the far distance and making several scenes really pop. Black levels are accurately rendered and surprisingly inky, showing terrific gradations in the various shades and providing the 2.35:1 image with an appreciable cinematic quality and dimensionality. (Video Rating : 4.5/5)
Circus of Fear
As with the picture, the DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack offers a notable and excellent upgrade over previous home video editions. Sadly, the presentation is far from perfect, arriving with a couple issues worth taking into consideration. Although dialogue reproduction is quite exceptional in general, showing precise, distinct intonation in each line, many heated conversations reveal a bit of hissing and very mild distortion. The rest of the lossless mix comes with a great sense of presence and warmth, generating a wide and engaging soundstage. Though the design doesn't extend into the upper frequencies often, dynamic range is nonetheless clean and fairly extensive, exhibiting clean detailing and separation throughout, most of which can be appreciated in the musical score. Background activity is distinct and plainly audible while low-bass is accurate for a production of this vintage. (Audio Rating: 4/5)
Five Golden Dragons
The movie also arrives with a wonderfully engaging DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack that delivers a surprisingly good sense of presence. Although much of the action is restricted to the center of the screen, imaging feels wide and welcoming with a great deal of warmth and excellent fidelity. The smallest sounds in the background are distinctly audible and clear, sometimes adding to the lossless mix's deceptively wider feel. Although the ADR is often apparent, distractingly so in a few sequences, dialogue is clear and precise throughout. The musical score of Malcolm Lockyer benefits the most thanks to an extensive mid-range that's quite dynamic, exhibiting superb detailing and separation between the various notes without the slightest hint of distortion. Arguably, low bass impresses the most, providing the high-rez track with appreciable weight that even delivers some palpability during many of the action sequences. (Audio Rating : 4/5)
A pair of crime capers featuring Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski arrive courtesy of Blue Underground, and together, they make an amusing double-feature romp. Admittedly, 'Circus of Fear' is the stronger movie of the two, but 'Five Golden Dragons' still has its charm with several delightful moments, thanks in large part to Bob Cummings's bumbling spy performance. Both Edgar Wallace adaptations hit Blu-ray with near-reference picture quality and excellent audio presentations, offering the best versions of the films available. Supplements are unfortunately light if not a bit disappointing, but the overall package makes a great addition to the cult collection.