Freaks (1932) Film Review
The characters of Hans & Cleopatra
The main cast
Characters from the film
- Released: 1932
- Running time: 64 minutes
- Genre: Horror, Drama
- Director: Tod Browning
- Budget: $610,307 (approx)
- Label: MGM
When it comes to horror films, this one goes down in history as probably one of the most controversial ones ever made. Director Tod Browning had previously worked for a traveling circus when he ran away from home at the age of 16, so had some prior knowledge of the trade when he directed this film. Right from the very start of the film we see something that will shock most people - a woman that is half woman and have bird. And as the man is talking, he tells the onlooking crowd that these people did not ask to be born, but born into the world they were. Back in those days when they have freak shows, people thought nothing of going to see these people in circuses and to be amused and shocked at what they saw. It was normal back then to call these people with deformities of all kinds freaks. Yes, it is sad when you think about it nowadays, but that was the norm back then.
The basis of the story is Cleopatra is, with want of a better word, a normal human sized human being. When she discovers Hans is to inherit a large amount of money, she plans to marry him. Cleopatra is the trapeze artist in the circus. She plots with Hercules, who is the strongman in the circus, to slowly poison Hans and thus get the money. With Hans being only about 4 foot tall they do, indeed, make an unlikely pair. But poor little Hans has fallen for the beautiful and seductive Cleopatra and is blind to what she is doing. Daisy Earle plays the character of Frieda. Daisy Earle is Harry's sister in real life. Frieda, whom Hans had a previous engagement with, tries to warn Hans of what's going on, we see how really blind love can be.
"She is the most beautiful big woman I have ever seen."— Hans
The opening scene in the film
The release of the film
Harry and Daisy Earles were not the only people in the film with physical disabilities. Other people who starred in the film were:-
- Olga Roderick - The Bearded Lady
- Daisy and Violet Hilton - The Siamese Twins
- Josephine Joseph - Half Woman Half Man
- Peter Robinson - Human Skeleton
These are just a few of the actors who were in the film. When it was released, the film was met with shock and horror from people who went to see it, as you can well imagine. Freaks was banned in England for 30 years. I remember watching this one night a few years ago on television. When I first watched it, it did intrigue me at how people were regarded in those days - especially people with disabilities. The film was also banned in some states of the USA. Tod Browning's career after its release had a knock on effect and had trouble finding work. Even after being heavily edited and scenes deleted from the film, people still found this a shocking movie to watch. Tod directed 4 films after Freaks, but this undoubtedly was a turning point in his career.
Even though the film had a largely negative response when it was released back in 1932, and a failure for MGM, it seems to have a cult following with todays film geeks. The ban has since been lifted in England, and the film is available on DVD. How this film affected those that starred in the film, I don't know. But it has certainly gone down in history.
This is a film that bemuses and astounds me. It highlights the fact that these poor people were exploited because of who they looked. But not only that, it shows that they are, after all, people with a heart and feelings. Yes, they can love, hate, cry, and be hurt. As in the character of Hans, we see how Cleopatra takes advantage of him and uses him. I did feel sorry for him.
The film is just over 1 hour long, but I feel it's a strong and emotive one. It's definitely one that will get people talking and debating. It's hard to say whether I would recommend this film or not. It's not the kind of film everyone will want to watch. Personally, I watched it because I was intrigued more than anything. And with these people being used as circus acts at the time, it's sad to know that this was, in fact, reality. Just out of interest, Harry Earles, who played Hans, played one of the characters in The Wizard of Oz as a member of The Lollipop Guild.
The DVD copy I own has a few interesting extras on it which I found useful to watch:-
- Documentary by David K Skaal
- Freaks: Sideshow Cinema
- Special Message Prologue
- Alternative Endings
© 2017 Louise Powles