Friday, May 13, 2016

Ring of Fire

TCM is airing the movie Ring of Fire tomorrow at noon. It's worth a watch if you haven't seen it before.

Frank Gorshin, James Johnson, and Joyce Taylor play Frank, Roy, and "Skidoo" respectively. They're three hoodlums who have recently held up a gas station in the more rural part of the Pacific Northwest. While they're at a diner, in comes police officer Walsh (David Janssen), who learns that these three are the hoodlums. So, of course, he arrests them. But this being one of those small towns, they don't have the more modern police cars that basically turn the back seat into a cage, and Walsh probably doesn't have enough handcuffs for all of them, anyway. So as he's taking them to the police station, one of them grabs his gun and carjacks him, except that back then they didn't call it carjacking.

The three force Walsh to drive, eventually down one of those old logging roads that run into the heavily forested parts of the region. Of course, they don't know any of the trails, which is a problem, while Walsh is the only one who does know them. So their plan is to have him be their guide, at gunpoint, as he takes them through the forest, even though they had never planned to go into the forest and take a long hike. Well, they're small-time criminals; thinking ahead never seems to be a strong suit for such petty criminals.

Complicating matters are some of Skidoo's actions. She's Frank's girlfriend, but she seems to be less than thrilled at having gotten involved with his scheme. So she starts to take a shine to Walsh, which may be sincere or may be just a way to throw Walsh off his game. In any case, it doesn't make Frank happy, and he's going to be the hothead of the bunch. Roy, for his part is almost as surly. Frank and Roy want a smoke, but Walsh says that's an absolute no-no. It's been very dry, and the slightest spark could be a disaster.

Well, with that foreshadowing, you can guess what's going to happen. Actually, you probably could have guessed it from the title. Needless to say, forest fire does start. It threatens not only the four main characters trying to get out of the forest, but the entire town! OK, it's a bit melodramatic, but it does make for some good visuals. Or, it would make for good visuals if TCM runs a print in the proper aspect ratio. The last time I saw it on TCM, it didn't look like it was in the proper aspect ratio, as everybody looked blown up and grainy, the way a panned-and-scanned print would look. IMDb, however, says that the movie was a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, not Cinemascope or any of the wider-screen processes.

As for the story, it's entertaining enough if a bit implausible at times. The acting is nothing to write home about, but this is an action movie, so the acting is less of a concern than the action, which for the most part does succeed. And some people may enjoy seeing a vintage small town in the Pacific Northwest as it was in the early 60s; a lot of the film was done on location in a small town in Oregon and the forests of Oregon and Washington.

Ring of Fire doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you'll have to catch the all-too-infrequent TCM showing.

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