Ring of Fire (1961)
“I fell into a burning ring of fire.”
An appropriate line from the Johnny Cash song to go along with this thriller involving a trio of young criminals, law officer David Janssen and a raging forest fire threatening an Oregon town. The only thing is, the title song over the credits is actually a different set of lyrics all together and it’s rocker Duane Eddy delivering them. News to me that the famed Cash song co-written by June Carter had a mirror image in title only.
When a trio of juvenile delinquents played by Frank Gorshin, Joyce Taylor and James Johnson run into patrolman David Janssen in a small town diner, this MGM released film from writer-producer-director Andrew L. Stone moves quickly into a compact thriller. For the first hour that is. David and his partner suspect the trio passing thru their town of Vernonia, Oregon are wanted for a gas station holdup. While making their way to the local police station, the unsearched female of the trio hands a gun to Gorshin in the backseat of the patrol car who in turns instructs David to head out of town. The town is heavily surrounded by forestry and it looks as if Gorshin is going to murder the two officers before he and the other two move on.
Fast talking Janssen delays what seems to be the inevitable and leaving his partner handcuffed to a tree, he agrees to get the trio safely out of the area. It isn’t long before his Captain back at the police station suspects something has gone awry with Janssen a no show after calling in his capture. Utilizing the picturesque backdrop of location filming, in order to avoid road blocks, Janssen takes the trio into the woods on foot. Could he be a Rambo style of backwoodsman? Kind of as he’s more than familiar with the area while Gorshin and company are just plain”city folk.”
Yes that is a tip of the hat for all of us Jack Palance fans in case your thinking it might be. On a count of three, let’s all close our eyes and picture Jack delivering that line in City Slickers.
Back to David Janssen and the problem at hand. Gorshin has a gun and Joyce Taylor is coming on strong to David in the sexual innuendo department and she just might be underage. With the local sheriff putting a posse together, this is an above average thriller of the likable Janssen trying to stay alive and keep the hoodlums off balance with his moving deeper into the forested area surrounding the town. While I pretty much enjoyed the first hour with it’s wonderful scenery and Janssen’s screen presence, the film morphed itself into a disaster epic minus the guest stars once Janssen is saved from imminent death thanks to the posse leaving Gorshin in cuffs.
A raging fire has taken hold of the forests surrounding the town prompting it’s evacuation. Not such a stretch I guess but the melodramatics thrown into the script are. While the town faces certain doom, Janssen’s ethics are questioned as to whether or not he has had sex with a minor during his kidnapping. Sexy Taylor does nothing to deny it so while the fires rage, Janssen is suspended on the spot before even taking Joker to be Gorshin to the county jail. Incredible!
What we are seeing here would have been better suited to a film all it’s own. As it is we have two ideas melded into one. The first works well as does the latter half of the second minus the rape charge. It’s just that they don’t belong together.
David Janssen has always been a likable presence on screen for me though he seemed to age far too quickly as the 60’s wound down and he lost that magic that the camera could capture. At the age of 29, Joyce Taylor is playing a minor here though she looks far from it. It’s actually a pretty bold performance when it comes to SEX on the screen. Plenty of flirtations and she’s pretty much making herself available to our hero, Janssen. Knowing she’s portraying a minor makes it even more risqué by Hollywood standards at the time. Reminding me of Blackboard Jungle she loves to call Janssen, “Daddio.”
Stay tuned for the real live train wreck filmed at the conclusion. Not something you’re ever likely to see in movie making again. It should be noted that director Stone went from sinking a real live ship in his previous film, The Last Voyage to taking down trains in this one. A precursor and inspiration to Irwin Allen’s everywhere.
Keep your eyes peeled to the TCM listings for the next showing as that’s how I came across this minor thriller that tries it’s best.