Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Freaks (1932)

After enjoying some sideshow-type entertainment recently, it was time to watch something in the true spirit of the true sideshow era. Since I hve not broke down and purchased Carnivale yet, so I broke down and watched the Tod Browning classic Freaks from 1932. I guess in a way there is a lot of that I can relate to or am interested in.

Plot/ The central story is of a self-serving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) who seduces and eventually marries a sideshow midget, Hans (Harry Earles), after learning of his large inheritance. At their wedding reception, the other "freaks" resolve that they will accept Cleopatra in spite of her being a "normal" outsider, and hold an initiation ceremony, wherein they pass a massive goblet of wine around the table while chanting, "We accept her! One of us! We accept her! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! We accept her! We accept her!" The ceremony frightens the drunken Cleopatra, who accidentally reveals that she has been having an affair with Hercules (Henry Victor), the strong man; she mocks the freaks, tosses the wine in their faces and drives them away. Despite being humiliated, Hans remains with Cleopatra.

Shortly thereafter, Hans is taken ill (supposedly from having too much to drink at the wedding feast, but actually from poison that Cleopatra slipped into his wine) and Cleopatra begins slipping poison into Hans' medicine to kill him so that she can inherit his money and run away with Hercules. One of the circus performers named Venus (Leila Hyams) overhears Cleopatra talking to Hercules about the murder plot, and tells the other freaks including Hans. In the film's climax, the freaks attack Cleopatra and Hercules with guns, knives, and various edged weapons, hideously mutilating them. Though Hercules is never seen again, the original ending of the film had the freaks castrating him - the audience sees him later singing in falsetto. The film concludes with a revelation of Cleopatra's fate: her tongue has been cut out, one eye has been gouged and her legs amputated, she has been reduced to performing in a sideshow as the squawking "human chicken". The flesh of her hands has been melted and deformed to look like chicken feet and her lower half has been permanently tarred and feathered.

This is a great film by Tod Browning, one that is completely different from the all-time horror classic, Dracula, that put him on the map as a director. Looking back at history, it is amazing that this film nearly cost him his career after casting actual deformed actors for the roles, not to mention the fact that this film had been banned in many country's for far too long. What Browning created with this masterpiece is an essential social portrait of world outside the mainstream and the true misconceptions of society. Just the fact that the "freaks" show a lot more solidarity and honesty than the `normal' people, shows the true genius within this film.

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