Thursday, April 21, 2011

RING OF FIRE (1961- U.S.A.)

D: Andrew L. Stone.  RING OF FIRE begins as a Dragnet-style, whacked out JD film that shifts gears in the final third act to become a full fledged epic disaster film that would turn Irwin Allen green with envy!  David Janssen (TV's THE FUGITIVE) is mild-mannered highway patrolman Steve Walsh who is lured and hooked by jail-bait babe, 'Skidoo' (Joyce Taylor of George Pal's ATLANTIS- THE LOST CONTINENT, Eddie Cahn's BEAUTY & THE BEAST) into a hostage situation by two creepy greasers (Frank Gorshin, TV BATMAN's Riddler and James Johnson of John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) who are on the prowl for kicks (aren't we all?).  At gunpoint, Officer Walsh is kidnapped by the trio and forced to drive them off the main highway into the forest.  It becomes a psychological game of wits between the cop, the kidnappers and the highway patrol headquarters who figure out things a little too easily.  At night in the woods, a semi-naked Taylor talks about her deprived childhood, her hooker mom and seduces patrolman Walsh, conveniently off-screen.  Soon the police deputize half the town's population and a mob of rifle-toting crazed citizens take to the hills!  Unfortunately, Gorshin hastily tosses his cigarette and drastically alters the course of destiny for the entire town, its population and the the movie's finale!  Smokey The Bear couldn't have hit you over the head with a more dire warning than this film does.

Frank Gorshin is excellent and does his best Kirk Douglas as Frankie Boy, a psycho with a 'mile-long rap sheet.'  Ultimately, he gets his just desserts with an epic but sadly off-screen accidental death on a burning bridge!  RING OF FIRE is a ridiculous but fast paced film that features a superficial pop-psychology take on juvenile delinquency,  implied nudity, bland interior lighting, a gratuitous Doodles Weaver cameo, thousands of screaming, fleeing extras right out of a Godzilla film, a surprising amount of miniatures, mucho optical and stock footage fire and a bizarre, inappropriate romantic fade-out that implies a gross, casual dismissal of statutory rape!  The theme song is composed and performed by Duane Eddy (not to be confused with the Johnny Cash song).  From the serious husband and wife director/editor team of Andrew and Virginia Stone.  Only the film's opening and closing credits are letterboxed at 1.85 while the rest plays full frame.  (Review based on a TCM broadcast.  Not available on home video).  Special thanks to K. Roulston.

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