Can a full grown woman truly love a MIDGET?
Year of Release: 1932
Also Known As: Forbidden Love, Nature's Mistakes, The Monster Show
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 62 minutes (1:02)
Director: Tod Browning
Harry Earles ... Hans
Daisy Earles ... Frieda
Olga Baclanova ... Cleopatra
Henry Victor ... Hercules
Wallace Ford ... Phroso
Leila Hyams ... Venus
Roscoe Ates ... Roscoe
Rose Dione ... Madame Tetrallini
Daisy Hilton ... Siamese Twin
Violet Hilton ... Siamese Twin
Schlitze ... Himself
Josephine Joseph ... Half Woman-Half Man
Johnny Eck ... Half Boy
Frances O'Connor ... Armless Girl
Peter Robinson ... Human Skeleton
Olga Roderick ... Bearded Lady
Koo Koo ... Herself
Prince Randian ... The Living Torso
Martha Morris ... Angeleno's Armless Wife
Elvira Snow ... Pinhead
Jenny Lee Snow ... Pinhead
Elizabeth Green ... Bird Girl
Angelo Rossitto ... Angeleno
Edward Brophy ... Rollo Brother
Matt McHugh ... Rollo Brother
John Aasen ... Giant (uncredited)
Jerry Austin ... Knife-Throwing Dwarf (uncredited)
Tiny Doll ... (uncredited)
Edith ... Crawling Girl (uncredited)
Delmo Fritz ... Sword-Swallower (uncredited)
Murray Kinnell ... Freakshow Barker (uncredited)
Tod Browning (1931's Dracula) directs this landmark movie in which the true freaks are not the story's sideshow performers, but "normals" who mock and abuse them. Browning, a former circus contortionist, cast real-life sideshow professionals. A living torso who nimbly lights his own cigarette despite having no arms or legs, microcephalics (whom the film calls "pinheads") - they and others play the big-top troupers who inflict a terrible revenge on a trapeze artist who treats them as subhumans. In 1994, Freaks was selected for the National Film Registry's archive of cinematic treasures.
Freaks, the movie that reminds us (although perhaps not as thoroughly as a visit to Wal Mart) that "normal" people are fucking terrible. I may have to get cereal later on, due to the message of immense importance this movie conveys. Particularly because it does it better than any other, but equally important, because it did it first, and during a time where "normal" people didn't have the mental aptitude to cope with these types of concepts. I think it's obvious to everyone who loves this movie, but I'll spell it out for all the disgusting normals that wandered in here. Pariahs love this movie. What could be better? Browning's Circus of the Scarred provides a nice home for the socially unacceptable, the pay's better than most people busting their asses in the steel industry were making, the work is easy and/or rewarding (depending whether you *are* a weird thing or *do* a weird thing), and when some gold diggin' ho starts playin' you, your freaky homies are right there, backin' you up. It's like a family, except you like each other. It's really quite heartwarming, with a feel good ending. Made me feel good anyway. The movie-going public of 1932, not so much. But then those were the kinda people who would shoot their white dogs for breeding with black ones, so really, what they think don't matter anyhow. I think most of the lessons Freaks considered important to get across have been pretty well accepted in society at this point, but I managed to find a few that warrant mentioning. Possibly because so many people have managed to remain ignorant of them, despite the best efforts of reality. First, stay in your league. Yeah, it's fun to think about what it'd be like if you could bag the 10 when you're a 6, but that kinda thing needs to be reined in and relegated to remaining nothing more than a thought. A good personality can grant you up to +1.5 on the 1 - 10 scale, but if you're reaching beyond that, there's money involved, an it's undoubtedly a bad idea. An when there's money involved, the best case scenario is divorce. Worst case, you could find yourself noticing their eyes darting back an forth between you and the kitchen knives. Second, was women's lib really even necessary? Cause it looks to me like even back in 1932 women were nagging shrews who faced no real retribution, save maybe being run out on when there was a litter of kids.
An third, as I understand this, it's okay to hit women. As long as they're only half woman, and you're able to sock the correct side of the body. That said, you don't wanna try this after having a half dozen beers, cause hitting the wrong side can result in a about thirty guys pounding the tar outta you. But if I can be cereal for a moment, Freaks really goes a long way towards showing us how much things have improved in our society in the last 80 years. Just look at the horrible reception this movie got at its original release. Now it's preserved in the National Film Registry for excellence in cinema. Ironically, this tolerance for people with genetic disorders/birth defects probably killed the Sideshow and their best chance for employment. They're different, but we got over it. For better or for worse, they're less interesting and no longer warrant exhibition, despite the gawking from those who're missing a couple chromosomes. You've still got pockets of stupid, to be sure, but in general, discrimination is and will continue to shrink, with each passing generation. We've at least reached the point where race isn't generally considered to be important. Gender discrimination's pretty well under control as well. Besides, most men are so easily manipulated it makes you wonder if there's a down side at all. We're currently working steadily towards acknowledging that people who like to bump uglies with people that have the same type of uglies are in fact, people. And while religious differences are gonna be a tough one, I think we'll get there someday. The point is, a lot of people may not realize how far we've actually come, regarding these cretinous prejudices. It's a little hard to see that things are improving because for most of us, equality is such a basic, simple, take it for granted concept that when we see Neanderthals pounding each other cause they look different or disagree about who the best sky wizard is, our brains explode. Fun in Scanners, not so much in real life. So the fact that that kinda nonsense still exists, weighs heavily. More so than it ever did in the past because we should have gotten past this crap by now. We're getting there though, so lets all try to hate each other because we're obnoxious, not because we're different, alright? I don't wanna have to mention this again. An if you're still not convinced, watch the movie. Ironically, you might well learn a great deal from a movie where the majority of the cast has legitimate mental deficiency, rather than the mental deficiency some people simply choose to carry with them. That's my public service announcement for the year, I promise I'll go back to being a dickbag next review.
The movie begins with a circus barker playing up the grotesqueness of the freak show he's working to sucker a bunch of slack-jawed gawkers into the show so they can feel better about who they ended up marrying. The nastiest, ickiest, most hideous monstrosity of them all, he says, was not always so. It seems like he's just stalling, and at this point the guy in the projection booth is finally able to free his tie, that inconveniently got sucked into the projector, an we're able to start the real movie. We begin with Hans, a sharply dressed midget, ogling the foxy trapeze artist that's swinging high overhead. After awhile he gets winded from running all over down below in search of the perfect upskirt an plays it cool once her act ends and she exits the tent. The trapeze artist (Cleopatra) is a big cocktease an by the time she lets Hans put her cape back on her, he's built up quite the tent of his own, an after she invites him over he starts strutin' like John Travola in Saturday Night Fever. By now his regular dame, Frieda, is gettin' real god damn jealous, but Hans tells her not to worry cause he's a half woman man an he'd never ditch her for some giant with jugs the size of his head. Elsewhere, some Frenchman with diarrhea of the mouth is badgering a pseudo authority figure about the monsters runnin' loose on his property, only when they find the trespassers it's only a bunch of weird lookin' people an the second guy has to browbeat the Frenchman for being an intolerant dick, an for makin' him think he was gonna get rich from selling Bigfoot footage to Fox. Back at the circus, Cleo really likes the flowers Hans got for her. She really likes money too an figures maybe if she shows Hans a little knee he'll keep buyin' her stuff. See, this crap's been goin' on for years, Cleo here is basically the proto-Anna Nicole Smith. Elsewhere you've got the strongman, Hercules, having a spat with his ex-girlfriend, Venus. Dude slays the Nemean Lion AND the Hydra, but is she impressed? Oh no. No, she just keeps talking about her stupid needs an how he was supposed to take care of her an not blow all their money on fast horses an loose women. Or was it loose horses an fast women... meh, it's not important. What is important is that she's had it, an Herc is gonna have to take his big club elsewhere. Then Venus starts spewing man hater bullshit on Phroso the clown til he gets sick of it an tells her to knock that Beyonce shit off before he has to give her a good cuffing. Of course then she starts cryin' an so he says he's sorry an that she's real pretty an that he'd totally go out with her if he didn't have a lot of important clown stuff he needs to get back to.
But Phroso doesn't get far before he runs into the conjoined Hilton sisters. One of which (Violet) was just married to Roscoe (whose role in the circus is never clearly spelled out). You really feel for poor Roscoe because in addition to having a stutter so bad that it adds five minutes to the movie, the poor bastard's wife is permanently fixed to his sister-in-law. And you know damn well the harpy won't ever mind her own business. On the plus side, if they can learn to get along, he's got a sure thing on a threesome. But on the downside, if they can't get along, it's gotta be awkward having sex with your sister-in-law watching. An what if it's dark an he grabs the wrong hooter? They'll probably get all snippy an yell at him for not being able to tell them apart. This just seems like a bad situation any way you look at it. Anyway, elsewhere, Hercules's got his sights set on Cleo, so he goes into her trailer an it looks like they're gonna make the sign of the double tongued Gila Monster when Herc spots the He/She peekin' in through the window, an since he's kind of a chunkhead he has to go outside an clock him/her a good one. It really isn't his fault, he got to trying to discern whether it was he or she that was looking, and whether he or she was looking at him or Cleo, an the statistics leading to a gay conclusion were just too high to tolerate, plus by that time he'd developed a wicked headache tryin' to sort the whole mess out. Meanwhile, Frieda (Hans' squeeze) is nagging Hans for goin' through more stogies than Fidel Castro an for havin' to roll his tongue back into his head anytime Cleo's around. The next day, Herc an Cleo are still screwin' around while trying to fleece Hans, an Frieda's whining to Venus about how Cleo's gonna take her man cause she'll do all the slutty things Frieda's too dignified to do. Venus tells her it'll be okay, but all us guys know Frieda hasn't got a prayer. Then all the freaks pile in the bearded lady's trailer cause she's just squirted out a baby that looks just like the guys from ZZ Top, although she claims the father is the human skeleton. Now you'd think with no muscle mass he'd never be able to get the job done, but then you'd also have to consider that if the bearded lady's on top, she'd crush Skeletor. They must have a sex swing or something. Then Phroso gets in big trouble with Venus cause he was too busy working on his act to remember he had a date. Phroso's gotta be gay, you do not *forget* that you've got a date with Leila Hyams.
Then after Roscoe bitches out Daisy some more for being a big lush, she an Violet have to leave so Daisy can go make out with the circus owner. Ah, nice, there are two gold diggers in this movie. Then Frieda tries to warn Hans about Cleo, but he's big shit now an he don't need her anymore cause he's gonna start gettin' that big girl poon. Yup. Anytime now he's gonna start gettin' it. No doubt about it. So he tells Frieda he's sorry, but he's movin' on up to the major leagues an she's gonna have to find somebody else to play catch with down in the minors. Meanwhile, Cleo an Herc are inspecting the bling Hans just gave her until Frieda shows up an Herc has to go hide while Frieda chews Cleo out for bein' a skanky, inconsiderate bitchface an ends up spilling the beans about Hans' inheritance fortune. Then Cleo gets this look on her face like she's just creamed herself an you know Hans is completely boned. But Cleo's not gonna be boned, not by Hans anyway, cause once she marries him, she's gonna poison him an spend his money on furs an pool boys. Course Hans is completely oblivious to the avalanche of ass headed his way an after they're married there's a big celebratory dinner at the circus an... oh dear god Koo Koo is table dancing. At least she's keeping her clothes on. Anyway, while Hans is distracted, Cleo gives him the ole strychnine spritzer an Cleo can't hardly contain herself cause she knows she's snowed Hans like a blizzard in Buffalo an she starts makin' out with Herc right in front of everybody. Then the freaks all start singing about how they're gonna make Cleo one of them an she starts lookin' around at all the nightmare fuel an starts goin' ape shit an drenching midgets with champagne til the freaks all have to clear outta there to get the ringing outta their ears. Hans is shocked and appalled. But not as appalled as he's about to be, cause Herc picks him up an sets him on Cleo an they go for a piggy back ride while he hides his face in shame. Herc's sorry though, they were drunk, an there's certainly no reason for Hans to get upset about that make out session that went on, cause he an Cleo are a match made in Heaven an about that time Hans goes down quicker than a baked ham that got too close to Chris Christie. The next day, the doctor says Hans is suffering from attempted murder, an it doesn't take long before everybody at the circus puts the pieces together, an they're all givin' Cleo an Herc the stink eye. Eventually, Hans suffers a major reality check. So he rallies the troops, an it's just about time Cleo an Herc find out what it's like to be in the minority. Cut here to preserve the tiny section of the movie that causes it to qualify as "horror".
Alrighty, as you know, or have guessed, I don't much care for black and white movies. They tend stuffy, slow, and generally not very entertaining. What we have here, is an exception. It's none of those things. This one's an obvious social statement, and one that is just as important now as it was then. Freaks, is, of course, an ironic title. They are the heroes, it's the normies that are the monsters. It originally had nearly 30 more minutes of runtime, and in that runtime, there was a lot of dialog removed that vilified the "normal" jackasses in the circus, while playing up the positives of the freaks. You can see why an audience in 1932 would flip their shit. So they edited much of that out an tried to vilify only Baclanova and Victor's characters. Additionally, they also removed what was apparently a rather graphic castration sequence at the conclusion, which resulted in Victor's character later appearing in another sideshow, singing in soprano. As well as a more graphic and lengthy depiction of Baclanova's disfigurement near the end. Despite taking all that out, it was still too hard for audiences to swallow at the time, and it pretty much ruined Tod Browning's career. Goes to show how powerful a force bigotry really is. This is the guy who directed Dracula, just one year before. One of the most famous and beloved horror films of all time. So clearly Browning was capable of great things. But no, cause he treated people who were different with compassion and respect. Sorry, we'd love to help you, but you've offended our idiots... err... target demographic. Pick up your last check at the front desk. It's unfortunate, to say the least. Almost as unfortunate, that near 30 minutes of footage that was removed is now considered to be lost, and I've no doubt that were the 30 minutes restored, it'd be a better movie. Which is not to say that it's bad, but I am me, and it is 80 years old. Fact is, it's one of the best black and white movies of all time, and should by all rights be considered a classic, right up there with Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man. At least by the people who really love all those old films. Leave it to narrow-mindedness to have a movie such as this, get panned harder than something like Cannibal Holocaust, which has absolutely zero socially redeeming value.
Alrighty, we'll have to be careful dissecting this moldy oldie, I wanna see surgical masks people. The plot is fairly simplistic, but it gets bonus points for having an important message inlaid. It's really a pretty standard seduction/betrayal plot, it just happens to take place in a sideshow, and the person being taken advantage of just happens to have a lot more angry back up than you tend to see in these types of movies. Adequate plot, nothing special, no complaints. The acting is difficult to grade. You cannot rationally watch a movie, knowing full well that the majority of the cast are real life circus performers with little to no professional training and judge it harshly. So while some of the performers lack proper acting ability, I find it irrational to penalize the movie too severely for it. That said, all the professional talent is well performed. Henry Victor is particularly good as the big chunkhead, Hercules. So I'm inclined to give it a pass on the acting as well, under the circumstances. The special effects are almost non existent. In fact, the only special effect I recall from the entire movie is what becomes of Olga Baclanova's character after the climax. And for the record, it's a good looking effect. Not often do I rate movies that have few special effects, but that isn't necessarily a problem. It's far better to have no special effects, than horrible ones. Besides, there's plenty of odd looking people to satisfy the viewer's craving for the visually provocative. The shooting locations are great. As well they should be, after all, Browning worked in a circus in his youth, and should thus be able to create a believable circus atmosphere. I say the shooting locations, but really we're just talking about a few sets; but they all get the job done. There isn't much of a soundtrack to speak of, just some standard carnival music which is adequate and the kind of thing you'd expect to hear. Really, the atmosphere is created more by sound effects, particularly at the climax of the film where there's rain pouring down and thunder crackling. When blended with the eerie visuals, it makes the climax of Freaks one of the most impressive and surreal conclusions to a movie ever filmed. Color or no color. Overall, Freaks is an enjoyable movie, and if you're more easily able to get past a film's age than I am, you should seriously consider adding 15% to the score I give it, because the things which I don't much care for, will have no impact on your enjoyment of the movie.