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Sunday, October 29, 2006


Directed by Tod Browning

Tod Browning had worked sideshows and circuses as a young man and had carny running in his veins. His collaborations with Lon Chaney in a string of great films in the 1920's had common threads of deformity and vengeance running through them and "Freaks", a culmination of these obsessive themes and influences, was the film he was born to create. He was riding high on the big success of Universal's "Dracula"(1931) and when MGM landed him to do this film they gave him full creative control only to be completely shocked and dismayed by the results. This really is a true historical document that offers the viewer a glimpse into the bygone days of the old time freak shows. The cast includes real life pinheads, a Siamese twin, a bearded lady, the living torso (no arms, no legs), Johnny Eck the half-boy (nothing below the ribcage), the half-man, half-woman Josephine Joseph, and other usual big top denizens like the strong man, clowns, midgets and dwarves. Some of the so-called normal people have good hearts, namely the charming love struck couple of Phroso the Clown and Venus the seal trainer, but they are mirrored by the sinister couple of Cleopatra (Olga Bacalnova) and her lover the strong man. Cleo finds out that the midget Hans (Harry Earles, who also played the cigar smoking imposter baby in Browning's brilliant "The Unholy Three"(1930)) is due to inherit a fortune and she goes about playing him like a fiddle to get him married with the intention of poisoning him once under matrimonial control. Anyone who has ever felt abnormal or strange or unwanted is likely to get their heart strings tugged hard by this movie but Cleo and the strong man have underestimated the freaks and in the stormy climax they exact their vengeance in horrific fashion. Rarely has revenge been so sweet. Sadly, Browning's career didn't recover from the ensuing backlash of this film, but it's hard to imagine how he could've topped it anyway.


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