Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Movie #178: Freaks

Freaks is an extremely freaking controversial movie, made in 1931 by none other than Todd Browning (of Dracula fame, which for some weird reason I don't own) and starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Henry Victor and a whole bunch of circus performers (I'm not going to link all their Wiki pages, but seriously, go here and and click a few links, it's pretty amazing). This movie was banned in a lot of places for a long time, until the 1960s when people started seeing "freak" as a good thing and it became part of the counter-culture. As it is, a lot of the footage is lost and it basically killed Browning's career.

So, trapeze artist Cleopatra (Baclanova) flirts with the midget ringmaster fellow (Harry Earles), who is, in turn, engaged to his fellow little person (Daisy Earles, Harry's real-life sister - which is why their relationship in the movie is so chaste). She also gets involved with the strongman, Hercules (Victor), who's just broken up with the animal trainer, Venus (Hyams), who's now snogging the clown, Phroso (Wallace). Whew. Yes, it's a soap opera set in a sideshow, which is fine by itself...

...but when Hans (Earles) marries Cleopatra (she's just after his money; he's actually very rich), they have a wedding feast with the other freaks. Drunk, Cleopatra insults the freaks (this is the famous "one of us" scene), and then humiliates Hans, and then tries to freaking poison him.

That doesn't, um, work real well, and the freaks wind up attacking both Hercules and Cleopatra. There's lost footage that shows all of that in more detail, but suffice to say that both wind up as freaks themselves (though you only see her in the version that's still available).

The movie is short and the sound is kind of choppy, but that makes sense; talkies were pretty new. Some of the actors don't act especially well, but some of the actors weren't actors. The movie is really incredible in its own way, though certainly not as horrifying by modern standards. It would have been interesting to see the movie that Browning intended, because it was much darker and, from what I've seen, doesn't present the non-freaks in the best light (it already doesn't as it is, but at least we get Phroso and Venus to not be utter assholes).

Definitely worth seeing. I wish that more of it were available, and I really wish Browning had done an interview about it before he died.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Fried Green Tomatoes