Monday, 9 January 2012

Freaks - Movie Review

Freaks - 1932
Director - Tod Browning

1) Freaks - Poster

Plot summary / review:
Adapted from a magazine by Ted Robbins entitled "Spurs", "Freaks" was MGM studios attempt to capitalise on the rising popularity of horror films in the 30's. Directed by Tod Browning (who had achieved massive success the previous year with Universal's "Dracula"), he sought to deliver a truly horrifying film. The resulting picture delivered on his promise, surprising studio execs and critics alike. After trouble with the censors and a brief cinema run, the film was ultimately dropped and marked the end of Browning's career. Jamie Russell of the BBC comments; "It's easy to see why reactions to the film have been so strong - it's a catalogue of the abnormal, the bizarre, and the grotesque that's still as unsettling today as it was 70 years ago." (Russell. 2002).

The plot revolves around a travelling circus of sideshow performers, controversially played by genuine "freaks". They are sensitively portrayed for the majority of the movie, as Kim Newman of Empire magazine observes; "It's oddly charming for much of its length, showing its human oddities as child-like innocents or heroic survivors" (Newman. 2005). Taking place behind the scenes, the film never shows the "freaks performances". Instead it depicts them living out their lives between shows, coping with typical domestic problems and the prejudices that comes with their disabilities.

2) Real life sideshow cast

The "freaks" are led by midget Hans (Harry Earles), who has fallen in love with beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Cleopatra learns that Hans is heir to a significant fortune and agrees to marry him. Together with her lover, strongman Hercules (Henry Victor), they plan to bump off her new husband and run away with his inheritance. When Hans' deformed friends discover the truth, they exact their revenge on the "big woman". However, as Newman notes this truly horrifying ending "undermines everything else in the movie as the freaks crawl through the mud and rain to avenge the martyred midget, at last becoming the monsters the monsters the world thinks them to be." (Newman. 2005).

3). Olga Baclanova as "Cleopatra" and Harry Earle as "Hans"

Writers Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Edgar Allan Wolf and Al Boasberg reverse the slander originally intended for Harry Earle's character from Robbin's magazine "Spurs". Instead the villain is portrayed by Cleopatra, intentionally done by Browning to make his audience question their assumptions of the normal and abnormal. Variety magazine comment that "Freaks" is "sumptuously produced, admirably directed and no cost was spared. But Metro failed to realize that even with a different sort of offering the story still is important." (Variety. 1931). 

After it's release the studio tried to distance themselves from the project, selling it to grindhouse distributors who screened it under the title, "Nature's mistakes".  It fell into obscurity until it was revived in the 60's and restored to its original release print. It has since been recognized as a masterpiece and confirms Browning as a unique director and a true specialist in horror.


Newman, Kim. Empire Review. 6th April 2005 Accessed 06/01/12

Russell, Jamie. BBC Review 17th September 2002 Accessed 06/01/12

Variety Staff Review. 31st December 1931 Accessed 06/01/12


1) Freaks - Poster Accessed 06/01/12

2) Real life sideshow cast Accessed 06/01/12

3) Olga Baclanova as "Cleopatra" and Harry Earle as "Hans" Accessed 06/01/12

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