Armed robbers take out a transport of funds and escape by boat, leaving the police with few leads and one of their own missing. The investigation leads the London cops to a circus where the wildest cavalcade of characters is exposed, any of which may have murdered the missing policeman.
As the police search further, led by Inspector Elliot (Gunn), jealousies and double-crosses are revealed between the circus performers. Primarily, Gina (Lee) and Mario (Kaufmann) have a tumultuous relationship, and Gregor (Lee) has some secrets to hide. As the police and the story dig deeper into the circus, plots of blackmail, murder and missing persons expand further. Mr. Big, a little person (Skip Martin), seems as intricately involved with each subplot, more so than even Barberini, the owner.
Circus of Fear may not be an easy fit into any single genre. Instead, the film bounces from action to mystery to suspense. The characters display a depth beyond their lines, as if each actor could sit down and describe the entire life history of every character in the film. The cops are the right mix of uptight and gruff, and each member of the circus has enough dark and suspicious qualities to make them an obvious suspect…or at least draw curiosity to their true intentions.
Margaret Lee is radiant as Gina, with enough suspicion around her involvement with one of the other unknown characters. Genn and Edwards play up the hesitation and curiosity between their policeman and circus owner roles respectively. With little effects and no gore, a film that leans heavily on the actors’ performances comes through effectively.
Johnny Douglas’ composition supports the film well, adding a tension that enhances character introduction and key points to the plot. Unfortunately, the film was cut to pieces before being transferred to digital, causing quite a bit of inconsistency in the initial ten minutes.
Though Lee leads the credits, he spends most of the movie covered in a mask. His character Gregor has suffered a severe accident, leaving him in a state of disfigurement. This limits his expression to body language and voice inflection, which is a shame given his talents. The cast contains a ton of veteran actors, including Genn, Kinski and Kaufmann.