30-year-old David Janssen, already a familiar face to audiences from 77 episodes of RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, stars as a rural police officer in MGM's RING OF FIRE (1961), a thrilling B-picture shot on location in Oregon and Washington.
Verisimilitude was the order of the day for director Andrew L. Stone (CRY TERROR), who filmed in tiny Vernonia, Oregon (population 2000) and used the townspeople as extras. The miniature and optical effects are good (Stone incorporates footage of a real forest fire), and it sure looks as though the stars are very close to real flames. Even the (real) barn where the police interrogate a suspect is perfect.
Sgt. Steve Walsh (Janssen) and his colleague Joe Pringle (Joel Marston) pick up a trio of juvenile delinquents in the downtown café on a charge of robbing a filling station the night before. On the way to the police station, Frank (Frank Gorshin, later the Riddler on BATMAN), Roy (James Johnson), and Bobbie (Joyce Taylor) overpower the cops using a pistol stashed in Bobbie’s shapely waistband and force them to drive out to the Olympic Mountains. Leaving Pringle cuffed to a tree, the teens ditch their four-wheeled transportation and head into the forest on foot, taking Walsh as a guide and hostage.
Shooting completely on location was probably hell on Stone’s production schedule, but the effort was worth it. William H. Clothier’s (THE ALAMO) color photography is wonderful, and Stone’s insistence on realism hikes up the suspense. RING OF FIRE’s biggest action sequence finds Janssen and Taylor trying to save the town from a roaring fire by herding the citizens onto an abandoned train and across a blazing bridge, and it’s a real corker of a climax.
Janssen hits the right notes as a lawman used to dealing with drunks and speeders, rather than armed psychos. In one sequence, sexy jailbait Bobbie (though actress Taylor was in reality just a year younger than Janssen) tries to vamp Walsh into letting her go free. Instead of playing Walsh as a man tempted, Janssen goes for confused—during training, nobody taught me how to react to a young girl who ignores my gun and tries to kiss me! It’s an interesting choice that says a lot about Steve Walsh and how far over his head he may be on his own with three fugitives.
MGM also had ATLANTIS, THE LOST CONTINENT, which co-starred Taylor, and one wonders whether it ever played a twinbill with RING OF FIRE. To sell the thrilling climax, Stone destroyed a real train and trestle, and the remains of the locomotive and two passenger cars still lay at the bottom of that gorge more than fifty years later. RING OF FIRE eschews a musical score to enhance the realism, though Duane Eddy (“Rebel Rouser”) composed and performed the title song, which was released as a 45 on MGM Records with “Bobbie” on the flip side.