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Freaks (Browning)

Director(s): Tod Browning

Theatrical Release: 1932

Cast: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller, Drama, psychological, Dean's List

Countries: USA


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Running Time: 66m.

The genesis of MGM's Freaks was a magazine piece by Ted Robbins titled Spurs. The story involved a terrible revenge enacted by a mean-spirited circus midget upon his normal-sized wife. In adapting Spurs for the screen, writers Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Edgar Allen Wolf and Al Boasberg retained the circus setting and the little man-big woman wedding, all the while de-vilifying the midget and transforming the woman into the true "heavy" of the piece. German "little person" Harry Earles plays Hans, who falls in love with long-legged trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Discovering that Hans is heir to a fortune, Cleopatra inveigles him into a marriage, all the while planning to bump off her new husband and run away with brutish strongman Hercules (Henry Victor). What she doesn't reckon with is the code of honor among circus freaks: "offend one, offend them all." At the wedding reception, the freaks ritualistically accept Cleopatra as "one of us", but she drunkenly spurns this honor and goes out of her way to humiliate Hans. Things come to a head when it is discovered that Cleopatra is slowly poisoning Hans, and that Hercules has tried to rape "normal" seal trainer Venus (Leila Hyams), who has always treated the freaks with kindness. Banding together, the freaks drive Cleopatra and Hans into a blinding rainstorm. Cornering their prey, the freaks slowly advance toward the villains. What set this film apart from director Tod Browning's earlier efforts was the fact that genuine circus and carnival sideshow performers were cast as the freaks: Harry Earles and his equally diminutive sister Daisy, Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, torsoless Johnny Eck, armless-legless Randian (who rolls cigarettes with his teeth), androgynous Josephine-Joseph, "pinheads" Schlitzie, Elvira, Jennie Lee Snow, and so on. Upon its initial release, Freaks was greeted with such revulsion from moviehouse audiences that MGM spent the next thirty years distancing themselves as far from the project as possible. For many years available only in a truncated reissue version titled Nature's Mistakes, Freaks was eventually restored to its original release print. Hal Erickson (allmovie.com)
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