Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford) and Dorando (Michael Gough) own a travelling English circus. Monica acts as the ringmistress, and Dorando is the business manager.
When tightrope walker Gaspar the Great falls to his death, it appears that his tightrope might have been purposely weakened. Monica's unemotional reaction to the tragedy alarms Dorando. When she suggests it will be good for business, he asks her to buy him out, which she refuses to do.
Monica hires a new high-wire walker, Frank Hawkins (Ty Hardin). Not only is he handsome, he is daring, doing his act over a carpet of sharp bayonets. Monica is impressed, especially by his physical appearance. Shortly after an argument, Dorando is found gruesomely murdered. Suspicion of Monica's guilt grows. Frank in particular suspects her, having seen her leaving Dorando's trailer before the body was discovered. He confronts Monica, demanding a share in the circus for his silence.
Monica's daughter, Angela (Judy Geeson), having been expelled from school, shows up at the circus. Not knowing what to do with her unruly daughter, Monica pairs her with Gustavo the knife thrower (Peter Burton). Another member of the circus company, Matilda (Diana Dors), attempts to seduce Frank, which Monica discovers.
During Matilda's act, a magician's trick involving the illusion of being sawn in half, there is a malfunction in the equipment and she is killed. And during his next high-wire performance, Frank falls onto the bayonets and is killed.
It was not an accident. Angela was seen throwing a knife into him before he fell. She confesses having hated her mother for years as a result of being ignored, now "removing" those who take up her mother's time. She then unsuccessfully tries to kill her mother. As Angela attempts to escape, she is electrocuted by an exposed wire during a rainstorm. Monica sobs inconsolably over her daughter's body.Joan Crawford as Monica Rivers
Ty Hardin as Frank Hawkins
Diana Dors as Matilda
Michael Gough as Albert Dorando
Judy Geeson as Angela Rivers
Robert Hardy as Detective Supt. Brooks
Geoffrey Keen as Commissioner Dalby
Sydney Tafler as Harrison Liston
George Claydon as Bruno Fontana
Philip Madoc as Lazlo
Ambrosine Phillpotts as Miss Burrows
Thomas Cimarro as Gaspar
Peter Burton as Gustavo
Golda Casimir as Bearded Lady
Ted Lune as Skeleton Man
Milton Reid as Strong Man
Marianne Stone as Wanda
Miki Iveria as Gypsy Fortune-Teller
Howard Goorney as Emil
Reginald Marsh as Sergeant Hutchins
Bryan Pringle as Constable Bradford
Herman Cohen wanted to cast Christina Crawford in support of her mother Joan, but Joan vetoed the idea.
Howard Thompson gave the film a mostly negative review in The New York Times, comparing it unfavorably to Circus of Horrors, but also commented, "It's also hard to make a hopeless movie with a circus background and sawdust aroma. This is the one solid thing the picture has going for it—the intriguing workaday routine of circus folk and some good, spangly ring acts, all handsomely conveyed in excellent color photography. And under the reasonable direction of Jim O'Connolly, the film does project a kind of defiant suspense that dares you not to sit there, see who gets it next and, finally, why." He goes on to state that Crawford "...is professional as usual and certainly the shapeliest ringmaster ever to handle a ring microphone."
Frank Leyendecker in Greater Amusements wrote, "Joan Crawford gives authority and extreme conviction to the colorful role of a circus owner and ringmaster...she consistently rises above the highly melodramatic, yet exploitable, material."
Lawrence Quirk wrote in Hollywood Screen Parade, "[Crawford] is all over the picture, radiant, forceful, authoritative, a genuine movie star whose appeal never diminishes."
Box office receipts for Berserk were considerable. In North America, the film grossed more than $1,100,000 and ranked #85 on Variety's list of top money makers of 1968. Box office receipts overseas nearly doubled that amount, coming in at $2,095,000. This made Berserk the most successful film Herman Cohen ever produced.
Berserk! was released on Region 1 DVD on 6 September 2011 from Columbia Classics DVD Collection. This is a Manufacture-on-Demand (MOD) release, available online through Warner Archive Collection and ClassicFlix and only in the US.