Freaks (1932)

freaks poster 1932 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 10/10

Amazing cast of real performers


Movie Info

Movie Name: Freaks

Studio: MGM

Genre(s): Horror

Release Date(s): February 20, 1932

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

freaks 1932 cleopatra hans olga baclanova harry earles

No…I love you…seriously…I’m not lying…do I sound like I’m lying? I’m not…

A trapeze acrobat named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) learns of the huge inheritance of a dwarf performer named Hans (Harry Earles) in her travelling circus and with Hercules (Henry Victor), decides to seduce, marry, and rob Hans.  Hans however is part of the freak show family, and the “freaks” don’t take kindly to one of the kin being hurt.  If they can’t make Cleopatra one of their troop, Cleopatra and Hercules will pay the price.

Directed by Tod Browning, Freaks was released in 1932 to controversy.  The movie’s original hour-and-a-half runtime was cut down to just over an hour and the original version no longer exists.  The film disappeared for years due to the subject matter but resurfaced in the 1960s and 1970s to gain a cult audience.

Freaks is an odd movie in that it would be very, very difficult to make today.  Changes in culture have worked to eliminate the stigma of those born with genetic defects that would be considered “freaks” in the days that Freaks was made.  Attempts to explore this culture have been made through shows like American Horror Story and Carnivale, but they take a more balanced look at the society created by the traveling circuses.

freaks one of us gooble gobble

Gooble-Gobble, Gooble-Gobble. One of us! One of us! We will make you one of us!

What is so disturbing about Freaks is that it used real side show performers as actors.  Harry Earles and Daisy Earles (who played Hans love interest Frieda) were actually brother and sister and part of an act called the Doll Family.  Daisy and Violet Hilton (the conjoined twins) were fused at the pelvis (and shared no organs).  Shlitze was born with microcephaly and had an unusually small skull and was developmentally functioned at the age of a three year old (Elvira Snow and Jenny Lee Snow played the other “pinheads”).  Josephine Joseph toured as a half-man, half-woman, and it was unclear if she was an actual hermaphrodite or an impersonator.  Johnny Eck was known as the Half-Boy and had a long career and life (dying in 1991).  Frances O’Connor played the armless girl and toured as the Living Venus de Milo.  Peter Robinson toured as the Living Skeleton and married the “fat-lady” of his real touring circus.  Olga Roderick was the Bearded Lady and was called Lady Olga as she toured with circuses.  Koo Koo the Bird Girl suffered from Virchow-Seckel which gave her a birdlike appearance.  Prince Randian was sometimes called the Snake Man, the Human Caterpillar, and the Living Torso and the famous scene of him rolling his own cigarettes was all part of his performance.

freaks 1932 ending cleopatra chicken woman olga baclanova

Does she lay eggs is the questions…

Freaks does emphasize the horror of the situation but also shows that the characters are a family.  Tod Browning had toured with a circus and included little supporting stories in addition to the story of Hans/Cleopatra/Hercules/Frieda.  It tries to portray the performers as normal people who can join together because they are different.  Does it succeed?  Not really…but many sideshow performers have said that they become a family.

The movie regardless of its nature also looks fantastic.  Browning uses the lights and darks perfectly to give the picture real atmosphere like he did in Dracula.  The black-and-white film is better for being in black-and-white and scenes like the ending scene in the rain with the mud and darkness of night are even more horrific as a result.  It also is great at showing how light scenes like the classic Gooble-Gobble dinner scene can turn from something light and fun to something horrifying

Freaks is a one-of-a-kind movie with lots of iconic images.  The movie’s reception allegedly took a toll on Tod Browning’s career which sputtered.  It could not (and probably should not) ever be remade because things have changed since the movie originally was released.  Freaks has to be seen to be believed.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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