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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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Brilliant and Daring Cinematic Masterpiece

  • Mar 31, 2009
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 Browning was finally given the go.

FREAKS was a huge success at it's initial screening in San Diego, but the movie was so unusual for its time (instead of fictional monsters the film was filled with real-life human oddities) that many found it squeamish and frightening and the studio pulled the film and had it re-edited. The movie found some critical success and was very popular in some cities, but overall the film was critically panned. Critics and many viewers found the sideshow setting of the film, with Siamese twins, armless women, pinheads, bearded ladies, dwarves, and a limbless man to be just too unnatural. It was banned in many cities across the U.S. as well as in Britain and Australia and MGM pulled the film from circulation. Fueled by a spirit of rebellion, the movie had a renaissance in the 1960s which continued for over thirty years until the film being added to the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board in 1994.

The basic plot of the film revolves around the dwarf Hans (Harry Earles) and his serious infatuation for a regular-sized female trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Hans is engaged to a female dwarf, Frieda (Daisy Earles--Harry's sister in real life), but when Cleo joins their circus, he becomes obsessed with her beauty. Cleo encourages Hans' advances, but really just thinks of him as a toy to play with, even making fun of him with other "normal" people at the circus behind his back. Cleo's real lover is the strong man Hercules (Henry Victor), who makes his living lousing upon wealthy women. Though Cleo isn't rich, Hans treats her like a queen and when she learns that Hans has inherited a fortune she and Hercules plan a way to get all of Hans' money. She marries Hans with the intention of slowly poisoning him over time until he dies. But the "freaks" at the circus learn of Cleo and Hercules' plan and set into motion a plan of revenge of their very own.

At the time of its initial release, many people found FREAKS horrifying because of the human oddities. Some would argue that we are now too desensitized by all the graphic and horrifying things we've been exposed to over the past two generations to find the film as frightening as it once must have seen. I would like to think it's more because we've become more sensitive and compassionate about all people (of course, a movie like FREAKS would never get made today). Whatever the case, the unusual people in FREAKS aren't disturbing and shocking. With our modern lens, audiences can see beyond the "freaks" and see them as the people they really were (as they movie says, "They are all God's children) and see the movie for the excellent film it is.

The official DVD version includes an audio commentary with film historian David Skal, an almost hour-long "making-of" featurette, and alternative endings to the movie (however, the original ending of the movie that shows what happens to Hercules seems to have been lost forever). I really enjoyed all of the special features. They are filled with all kinds of information about the movie, the performers, and the history of cinema.

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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 . November 10, 2008
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 …
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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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