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JOHN WAYNE PRESENTS 'RING OF FEAR' WITH JOHN BROMFIELD

Pat O'Brien, Sean McClory & Mickey Spillane YEAR: 1954
There's THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, considered by some the greatest Circus Movie — unless you count the more personal, character-driven melodrama, TRAPEZE or maybe JUMBO, THE BIG CIRCUS or else this lesser known but more entertaining little circus thriller: a John Wayne production (that he doesn't appear in) titled RING OF FEAR wherein the first three credited stars include two that are exploited for their skills while being non-actors and playing themselves...

The second is real life pulp author Mickey Spillane, complimented by surrounding circus employees, all fans of his gritty and popular (and brilliant) gumshoe novels: as an example of the unapologetic exploitation element, one vendor just happens to be reading a Spillane potboiler as Mickey stops for a hot dog — then hands him his latest paperback potboiler...

Same head-turn of the top picture
Apart from being human product placement, Mickey's acting is wooden yet he's far more natural as himself than his creation, Private Eye Mike Hammer, a decade later in THE GIRL HUNTERS...

John Bromfield and Marian Carr
The barrel-chested scribbler hangs around with a relaxed undercover cop, both pondering a string of mysterious killings within the surrounding circus exterior, and it has to be one of the employees at fault...

All this overseen by third star Pat O'Brien, who basically, and not surprisingly, walks around barking orders. And the number one credit goes to the person with the less overall screen-time, Clyde Beatty, simply because it's his circus. An overlong scene where he... whip in one hand, chair in the other... tames lions before the crowd isn't plot-important like the trapeze act where there's a palpable element of edgy suspense that actually fits within the story. Meanwhile Sean McClory literally steals the show as the psychotic killer returning as the circus director who we're introduced to being turned down by a stuffy asylum parole board...

Marian Carr, Sean McClory at showtime
After fist-clenched escape, a brutal sequence has our Irish heavy trading a railroad worker's clothes with his own after knocking the poor guy out, keeping him alive for a few minutes and, from this point, McClory's character, Dublin O'Malley, is reported as having died by train-mauling suicide: a cold-blooded bastard, indeed, and yet, unlike most antagonists in films of this period, he's the central character throughout...

Sean McClory escapes
RING OF FEAR combines the daily chores of a professionally orchestrated circus leading to the nightly shows along with the aforementioned investigation that only shifts from noun to verb during the rushed finale, leaving plenty of time beforehand for the charming, talkative, and, having worked the show a few years earlier,  experienced "windy character" who, blackmailing a drunken clown with a sordid past, resorts to the aforementioned sabotage...

Marian Carr w/ Ralph Meeker in KISS ME DEADLY
Meanwhile, McClory's O'Mally's obsessed with pretty b-starlet Marian Carr, who's no stranger to the Mickey Spillane universe having played rich criminal Paul Stewart's flirtatious airhead sister in Robert Aldrich's Film Noir adaptation of KISS ME DEADLY...

Here as a wispy, put-upon, blond-haired trapeze artist married to HOT CARS star John Bromfield, she had a past fling with O'Mally, and he wants her back: Especially since her daughter, in only one person's opinion, resembles the offspring of the Irishman instead of trapeze stud Bromfield. Adding a creepy-sinister element to a lethal, unpredictable and obscure villain who — throughout all the technical eye-candy — is always either centered on, or waiting right around the corner to center on someone else.
Mickey Spillane with Sean McClory and Pat O'Brien in RING OF FEAR
Sean McClory takes a creepy photo of marrieds Marian Carr and John Bromfield in Ring of Fear
Clyde Beatty and a tiger that's not CGI in RING OF FEAR
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