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Freaks (1932)

Tod Browning's 1932 cult classic film, which was controversial upon its initial release, that details the lives of circus sideshow freaks.

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1932 Soap Opera with wicked plot and unusual cast

  • Nov 10, 2008
  • by
Back in vogue after being shunned and even banned at the time of its release, Freaks is a daring look into the lives of unusual circus performers in an era 75 years lost and gone. Having been made in 1932, you won't be seeing any special effects or phenomenal feats, but what you will see is the best collection of freak show performers Hollywood could gather at the time.

The plot is fairly simple. Beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) toys with midget Hans (Harry Earles) until she discovers that Hans has a great deal of money. The gold-digging Cleopatra, together with boyfriend/strongman Hercules (Henry Victor) plots to capture Hans' little heart and steal him away from fiancé Frieda (Daisy Earles).

Cleopatra achieves her goal, capturing the sweet and gullible Hans into marriage, but at their wedding feast among the circus' more peculiar acts, Cleopatra becomes drunk and her malicious nature explodes. The freaks, alerted to Cleopatra's snaky underbelly, ally themselves with Hans who has mysteriously fallen ill.

Coming to Hans' aid, the circus freaks corner Cleopatra in her schemes, catching her red-handed with poison in her hand, and chase her out into a bitter rainstorm to her doom.

Let's face it, the real attraction to Freaks is the abnormal conformation of the human actors involved. Prince Randian, the Living Torso; Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Siamese Twins; Johnny Eck, the half-man; Frances O'Connor and Martha Morris, the armless girls; Peter Robinson, the Human Skeleton; Elvira and Jenny Lee Snow, the microcephalics, or "Pinheads"; Elizabeth Green, the Bird Girl, and of course Schlitze, the happy-go-lucky "pinhead" who lived until 80 years of age in real life.

Not being professional actors, these performances are slightly wooden, but the group works so well together that you should be able to overlook the amateur acting. For what little Browning had to work with in regards to sets, the scenery and background was carried out quite well. The photography is not top quality, even for 1932, but overall the film is more "good" than it is "bad". I feel that it is an important film, especially to anyone who enjoys modern day horror. Freaks, after all, was the birth of abnormality in horror, bringing in the human condition rather than werewolves and vampires.

Once you have watched the movie, turn to the Special Features. I do not usually tout special features on DVD's, but the ones with Freaks are must see.

First is the Special Message Prologue, that should have played before the movie also. Next, the movie with commentary by author David Skal. Third is the best feature, called Freaks: The Sideshow Cinema. This is an interview type commentary with author David Skal, Sideshow Performer/Historian/Author Todd Robbins, Sideshow Performer/Historian Johnny Meah, Actor and Little Person Mark Povinelli, and Actor and Little Person Jerry Maren. This special feature is as entertaining as the movie itself, and is a "not to be missed" feature. It includes segments revealing the private lives of some of the sideshow actors involved in the film.

As a side note, during one of the still shots, take a look at the size of that 1930's movie camera. It's the size of a compact car...almost!

Freaks is a DVD that every horror aficionado should own, and watch more than once. The subtleties of horror are all there in their embryonic stages, made available by presenting real flesh rather than skin bondo. And yet, these people were portrayed as happy individuals, living a communal lifestyle inside the warm comfort of each other. A real community, not remotely like Hillary Clinton's "grasping at election straws" communities.

Lots to study in this piece, but lots to enjoy also. Pop some old fashioned popcorn in oil on your gas stove, get yourself a coke and put some maraschino cherries in it, then sit back and enjoy this long lost treasure. Enjoy!

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January 26, 2009
A must see for anyone who claims to be a movie fan--much less a horror fan!
More Freaks reviews
review by . March 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     "Freaks" is one of those films that I interpret in ways that most would not, yet I still adore it as much as the next guy. "Freaks" is known best as a horror film, although I personally see it as more of a touching drama with a good message. It's a masterpiece for sure, and should please horror films in spite of the lack of true horror. The only part in the film that is actually intended to be disturbing is the ending, which frankly, I find to be just plain …
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
Disturbing, but really good. Well made for its time.
review by . March 31, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
In the early 1930s, Hollywood had discovered the monster movie and the monster movie was all the rage. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, and many other monsters like them were huge at the box office. At the time, Tod Browning was a hugely successful silent film director who had a major film hit with DRACULA. Browning had been trying for several years to adapt a short story, Tod Robbins' "Spurs", into a feature film with Lon Chaney scheduled to appear. However, it took the success of DRACULA before …
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I want to thank Everyone for welcoming me back! :) I'm here to stay folks, my sabbatical on writing reviews is over and I'll continue to review for Lunch. It's great to be back, too! Thanks again for … more
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About this movie


Starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates
Directed by Tod Browning
Writer:  Clarence Aaron 'Tod" Robbins

Product Description
Treachery is discovered amongst a traveling circus sideshow. Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 09/13/2005 Starring: Wallace Ford Roscoe Ates Run time: 62 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Tod Browning

Also Known As: Forbidden Love (USA) (informal title)
Nature's Mistakes (USA) (informal title)
The Monster Show
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Director: Tod Browning
Genre: Classics, Drama, Horror, Romance
Release Date: February 20, 1932
MPAA Rating: Unrated
DVD Release Date: August 10, 2004
Runtime: 64minutes
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Warner Bros. Pictures
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