A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal giant gorilla who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition.
A circus trapeze artist, Cleopatra, takes an interest in Hans, a midget who works in the circus sideshow. Her interest however is in the money Hans will be inheriting and she is actually carrying on an affair with another circus performer, Hercules. Hans's fiancée does her best to convince him that he is being used but to no avail. At their wedding party, a drunken Cleopatra tells the sideshow freaks just what she thinks of them. Together, the freaks decide to make her one of their own. Written by
Samuel Marx, head of MGM's Story Department, recalled with peculiar pride, "And so, Harry Rapf, who was a great moral figure, got a bunch of us together and we went in and complained to Irving Thalberg about 'Freaks'. And he laughed at that. He said, 'You know, we're making all kinds of movies. Forget it. I'm going to make the picture. Tod Browning's a fine director. He knows what he's doing.' And the picture was made." But the lunchroom protests didn't end. As a result, a makeshift table was constructed and the cast of "Freaks" (with the exception of Harry Earles & Daisy Earles, Violet Hilton & Daisy Hilton, and the more "normal" cast-members) were forced to eat their meals outdoors. See more »
In the first shot after the "Wedding Feast" title card, we see Violet Hilton & Daisy Hilton playing soprano saxophones, but we only hear a harmonica being played. See more »
Dummkopf! What have you on your shoulders for heads? Swine pails?
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It is ironic how director Tod Browning followed up "Dracula"--a horror film with painterly set design and a distinct atmosphere of unease--with a horror film more grounded in reality. Whereas the sets in "Dracula" were as skillfully rendered as the most elaborate of tapestries, the abstraction of "Freaks" comes from the title characters, who are at once hideous, wonderful, and all too human. Browning doesn't present these characters--who were actual sideshow performers--in an exploitative manner (though the long disclaimer that precedes the film is a definite reflection of his concern), but instead touches on a humility, modesty, and altruism that makes them as capable of expressing joy, sorrow, and vengeance as any 'normal' human being. And that's the overriding moral of "Freaks," wherein busty trapeze artist Cleopatra marries sensitive midget Hans only so she and her lunkheaded, strongman lover can make off with his inheritance. Granted, this plot has since become cliché, but to apply it to sideshow performers who are truly in their element 'under the big top' is something of a masterstroke...as it makes the 'normals' seem that much more out-of-place and unwelcome. (A complaint: as some of the dialog is difficult to decipher, it seems that the sound quality was either poorly recorded at the time or when it was transferred to video.)
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