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DVD Review: Freaks (Tod Browining) 1932

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Freaks (1932)

Produced and Directed by Tod Browning

Tod Browining: Freaks (1932) DVD ReviewFreaks is a 1932 horror movie set in a circus. The story is based on the short story "Spurs" (written by Tod Robbins) and focuses on the lives of the 'freaks' who perform in the sideshow acts. The movie was directed by Tod Browning, who spent some of his earlier years living in a travelling show; so he had a wealth of personal experience and knowledge to draw upon. 

Browning decided not to use clever costumes and make up to create his freaks, choosing to cast people with real deformities instead. His decision to do so ended what had been a very promising career. Moviegoers were uncomfortable with the knowledge that the stars of the film were exactly what they seemed to be. In fact, Freaks was considered so controversial that it was a banned movie in the UK for about 30 years.

I have watched Freaks several times and consider it to be a true, if perhaps misunderstood, masterpiece that is, in many ways, much better than the short story it is based upon. All the cast members act out their respective roles perfectly, and Browning's decision to use people with real deformities gives the movie a ring of truth that fake freaks could never have achieved.

But is it a horror movie? Some people would say so, others would not. The movie certainly contains enough elements of fear for it to be classed as a horror movie, but it is so much more besides. Freaks forces the viewer to take a closer look at human nature, and maybe at themselves as well, because sometimes the words 'monster' and 'freak' are more telling of what a person is like inside than of their outward appearance.

The main character in the story is a midget named Hans, and he is nice little guy. Hans is very intelligent and quite tough too. In fact, at times, he reminded me of a miniature version of James Cagney because he displays a similar tough guy attitude when he is riled. Hans is engaged to fellow midget, Frieda, and they make a lovely couple. Unfortunately the little guy's head has been turned by the beautiful, high-flying trapeze artist Cleopatra.

Cleopatra is more than happy to accept Hans' attention and finds it all quite the joke. She is also equally happy to accept money and gifts from the enamoured little guy. Then when Frieda lets it slip that Hans has inherited quite a lot of money Cleopatra decides that wedding bells are in order, and marries him, all the while planning to murder the little guy with the help of her lover, Hercules the strong-man. She gets her plans off to an early start at the wedding feast, and slips some poison into Hans' drink. Needless to say, he is soon laid up in his sickbed, but the other freaks are well aware of what is going on and they believe in sticking together, and taking care of their own. Revenge is called for and, once the wheels are set in motion, even the circus strong man is no match for a gang of angry freaks.

Freaks is a very good, and equally memorable, movie that everyone should try and see at least once. It isn't often that words 'charming' and 'horror movie' can be said in the same breath, but in this case I think that they can.

Freaks - Tod Browining (1932)

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 Wallace Ford ...  Phroso
 Leila Hyams ...  Venus
 Olga Baclanova ...  Cleopatra
 Roscoe Ates ...  Roscoe
 Henry Victor ...  Hercules
 Harry Earles ...  Hans
 Daisy Earles ...  Frieda
 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 ...  Armless Girl
 Elvira Snow      ...  Pinhead (as Zip)
 Jenny Lee Snow ...  Pinhead (as Pip)
 Elizabeth Green ...  Bird Girl
 Angelo Rossitto ...  Angeleno
 Edward Brophy ...  Rollo Brother
 Matt McHugh ...  Rollo Brother  
 Ernie Adams ...  Sideshow patron
 Jerry Austin ...  Dwarf throwing knife at Hercules 
 Louise Beavers ...  Maid 
 Sidney Bracey ...  Hans' Butler 
 Albert Conti ...  Landowner 
 Tiny Doll ...  Bit part 
 Edith ...  Little Girl crawling on her knees 
 Delmo Fritz ...  Sword Swallower 
 Murray Kinnell ...  Freakshow Barker 
 Michael Visaroff ...  Jean the Caretaker 


                                   Runtime: 64 minutes

                                   Aspect ratio:  1.37:1

                                   Filmed in black and white

                                   Soundtrack:  mono

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