Monday, February 28, 2011

Murder in Circus (India, 1971)


The Friends VCD of Murder in Circus, which looks to have been mastered from a VHS tape of an old television broadcast, may be about the worst I’ve seen quality-wise. Seriously, this thing looks like something you’d find in a dead serial killer’s basement. Add to that the fact that so much of the film takes place at night (car chases can be recognized only by the intermittent visibility of headlights accompanied by tire squeal sound effects) and you have something that’s almost as impenetrable as that video in The Ring, though hopefully less lethal.

Which is a shame, because what can be seen of Murder in Circus looks like a moderate amount of fun. Our star here is Jaymala, which can only mean that Jaymala’s husband, B.K. Adarsh, is lurking around somewhere behind the scenes. And he is, of course -- this time acting as producer, with someone named A. Salam directing. Now, by pointing that out, I don’t mean to lend credence to the idea that poor Jaymala would rarely have gotten acting gigs if not for her husband, even though that seems to have somewhat inexplicably been the case. The fact is that hers and her husband’s involvement generally serves as a marker of high B movie quality, as we’ve already seen demonstrated by the wonderful Spy In Rome and Putlibai.

Here Jaymala plays the star trapeze artist at a circus where a string of mysterious murders is taking place. For personal reasons that will later be made clear, she takes it upon herself to solve the crimes, and is helped in this by Gopal (Putlibai’s Sujit Kumar), the circus’ resident lion tamer and fill-in trapeze guy. The murders seem to revolve around a stolen case of diamonds, and there is a sizeable gallery of familiar rogues on hand to make up a list of possible suspects, among them dependable 60s B movie bad guy B.M. Vyas and N.A. Ansari, who this time around is hidden behind a red beard and specs. Shetty -- who is also credited with fight composition -- also makes an appearance, only to be killed off early, after which his corpse continues to pop up at inopportune moments for his fellow cronies.

Lucky for us, the lovely Bela Bose also makes an appearance as this noirish tale’s requisite vamp, most memorably taking part in a song and dance number that cleverly incorporates a fight taking place in the bar in which she’s performing. Here and elsewhere, music director Usha Khanna’s tunes are generally passable, but it’s the film’s background score that’s of particular interest, consisting almost entirely of then-contemporary Western pop hits. One fight scene involving Shetty is set to Shocking Blue’s “Venus”, while, on two different occasions, Gopal’s lion tamer act is accompanied by a cheesy instrumental version of Paul Revere & The Raiders’ “Kicks”. You might think this would give the proceedings a hip, timely feel, but the truth is that it all comes off as a bit anachronistic, given the film itself feels rather old fashioned, and could just as easily have been a product of the 40s or 50s, rather than the 70s.



While it’s enjoyable, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling all that passionate about Murder In Circus, unless they’re someone who just really, really likes to watch stock footage of old circus acts, of which there is indeed much. That said, I will say that the film’s final act really picks up steam when the killer all of a sudden starts to wear a creepy, Mardi Gras style mask. This leads to a hallucinatory musical number in which all of the circus performers are wearing bizarre masks, with Jaymala and Sujit Kumar running around tearing those masks off as they desperately try to figure out which of them is the homicidal maniac. Of course, they do eventually solve the mystery. I’d tell you who it is, but…

8 comments:

prof. grewbeard said...

oh boy, the Circus!

memsaab said...

You are intrepid indeed...my eyes couldn't take this one!

Todd said...

This one has been in the stack for a while, and I've been long wondering why none of my other blogger friends, such as yourself, had covered it. Within seconds of putting it in the player, I said to myself, "Oh, that's why."

Michael Barnum said...

Yes, now I remember why I watched no more then about 10 minutes of this...the pic quality...but now that you have also reminded me that Jaymala (the Bollywood Yvonne DeCarlo) is in it, I must give it another shot. NO Jaymala film shall be overlooked by me(even if I have still not finished SPY IN ROME...something I started over 2 years ago.)

Of course, Todd, with your nifty write up I think I could get away with just watching the musical numbers...and the last few minutes of the film, I suppose, since the film-makers have made such threats that I guess nobody will dare to let me know who the killer is.

Beth said...

So! Tempting!

I think a post on circus-related films in Bollywood would be great - I've seen at least two (one of which has Ranjeet in a leotard) and they're both fun. There must be dozens of circus-based song picturizations at the very least....

That "Please do not give away..." shot is the best thing ever.

Todd said...

Rather than focusing on the circus theme, I'd like to see more love for Jaymala in the B'wood blogging community. I think she's aces!

sonny815 said...

Sounds like the plot of the German Krimi "Circus of Fear/Psycho Circus", except we know that Indian films never pilfer plots from other movies.

Todd said...

Riiiiggght. Because that would be WRONG.