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I watched this last night, because I was absolutely knackered after a long week and busy weekend, and couldn't contemplate doing anything other than lying down and staring at a flickering screen. It is one of a little stock of Christopher Lee movies broadcast on a more or less regular cycle by various satellite channels, which I pick up by searching DigiGuide and then set my Sky box to record. That way, they are all there, ready and waiting for evenings like last night.

It starts out as a classic British gangster movie, with a plot which clearly owes quite a lot to the real-life events of the Great British Train Robbery of 1963. The gang in question stop a security van full of money on London Bridge, rather than a train, but motifs such as putting up false signal, a gang member injuring one of the drivers, chucking sacks of money along a human chain, and taking the money to a remote farm are all in place. At this point, though, the plot does a sharp 90 degree turn into an utterly different genre. The gang member charged with bringing the money to the farm is killed by an unseen assassin, and it winds up at the circus of the title. This is rife with human dramas, including an abusive relationship, a secret affair and at least two assumed identities. And meanwhile, Inspector Elliot of the Yard has to try and track down not only the money, but now also a murderer.

Rather as in the similarly-titled Theatre of Death, which came out the following year, Christopher Lee's established star image as a screen villain seems to be used as a red herring here. Certainly, the unseen assassin who kills the gang member with the money appears (or his hand and a reaction shot does) just after his victim has been frightened by coming across some horror masks and props, which would immediately make anyone who had noticed Christopher Lee's name on the promotional posters for this film think of him. And then his character stomps around a lot being unapproachable and shady, and does in fact turn out to be in possession of the money. But I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say that nonetheless, he isn't actually the murderer. The big difference between this film and Theatre of Death, though, is that once you do know who the murderer is, it all makes sense - or it does as far as I could tell in my tired state, anyway.

Other familiar faces in this film include Klaus Kinski, who skulks around in the shadows a lot being sinister, Skip Martin, who was basically the Warwick Davis of his day and thus in everything which required a dwarf (including Castle of the Living Dead and Vampire Circus), and Cecil Parker, who plays comically exaggerated establishment figures in everything. Lee himself actually spends most of the film wearing (what now looks like) a terrorist-style mask, allegedly because his character had suffered terrible facial injuries a few years earlier after being attacked by lions, which is disappointing for those of us who enjoy looking at his aristocratic, saturnine features. He also speaks throughout in a Russian accent, which is disappointing for those of us who enjoy listening to his clipped RP accent. But he does take the mask off eventually, and also wears The Jacket, so you can't complain too much, really.

In short, very British, very 1960s, perfectly watchable, but not particularly worth seeking out and watching unless you have a thing for 1960s gang movies or a special interest in the career of one of its stars.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 25th, 2014 11:34 am (UTC)
I love Cecil Parker - but would willingly consign that jacket to a bonfire...
Nov. 25th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
I must say The Jacket is not an attractive or stylish piece of clothing. But I'm fascinated by the thought of how many of his films it has appeared in, how stubbornly he sticks to it, and how many identical jackets there have actually been. Presumably they can't all be the same one - not after 50 years?
Nov. 26th, 2014 10:10 am (UTC)
Tweed and worsted are very hard wearing.....
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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