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Monday, 23 July 2012

Freaks (1932) - Spotlight on... Trailblazers

Some of the "freaks" from the film
'Freaks' is a 1932 pre-code horror film directed and produced by Tod Browning. It is loosely based on Tod Robbins' 1923 short story 'Spurs', about a midget who falls in love with a full grown woman.

'Freaks' is a very unusual and unique cinema experience. Rather than using costume, make up and other special effects, Browning cast real people with deformities to play the "circus freaks.

Stirring controversy on its initial release, it sadly destroyed the brilliant directing career of Browning overnight. Fortunately in recent years the film has received the praise and acclaim it deserves.

Watch a trailer for this film:

The Siamese twins
'Freaks' is the love story of two dwarfed circus performers, Hans (played by Harry Earles) and Frieda (played by Daisy Earles)... well almost. Frida is in love with Hans, but Hans is in love with the "normal" Cleopatra (played by Olga Baclanova). Cleopatra is not genuinely in Hans, however conspires with her lover Hercules to marry and murder Hans in order to collect his inheritance.

In ancient times, deformity was considered to be evil, with families bearing deformed children believing they were cursed. This belief is a result of conditioning of their ancestors. Browning challenges this belief and presents a new paradigm. In this film it is the deformd "Freaks" who are the heroes of the film, with two "normal" members of the circus, who are the villains. Browning has also empowered Hans to be more intelligent than he looks. This is evident in the scene where Hans spits out the "medicine" (really poison) Cleopatra gives him.


Hans & Frida
The release of 'Freaks' was a very controversial event which shocked and horrified movie goers. One woman even threatened to sue MGM, claiming the film had caused her a miscarriage. Due to the overwhelmingly negative reaction, the film was edited down from 90 minutes to 64 minutes.
The film was even banned in the UK for 30 years. Despite this controversy, in 1994, 'Freaks' was selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is also considered to be a cult classic, with regular midnight movie screenings since the 1970s.

Did you know...

  • Myrna Loy was initially intended to star as Cleopatra, with Jean Harlow as Venus, however MGM decided to not cast any of their major stars in this controversial film

Closing remarks

The human torso lights his cigarette using his mouth
Despite it being a truly bizarre and confronting experience, I like this film a lot, and have seen it several times.  Without giving too much away, I really like the way in which the deformed "freaks" use their disadvantages to their advantages by hiding in narrow nooks and crannies to protect a beloved friend and save the day. Another highlight for me is seeing the Human Torso (played by Prince Randian) light a match and cigarrette using only his mouth. A truly inspirational moment!

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