A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape 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
During the scene in which Hans' friends menace Cleopatra in the wagon, the flute soundtrack doesn't match the finger movements of the dwarf playing the flute. See more »
I'm not going to have my wife laying in bed half the day with one of your hangovers.
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Although most prints end with the revelation of what happened to Cleopatra, Turner Classic Movies shows a version which follows that scene with a happy-ending epilogue in which Hans and Frieda are reunited. This epilogue itself exists in two different versions, one with dialogue, one without. All three alternate endings are included on the Warner DVD. See more »
So much has been written about this film one is wary of writing about it, figuring that most everything that can be said about it has already been said, and that there's not much more to add. It has been praised and damned, and was so hated by the boss of the studio that produced it that he had his company's trademark removed from the credits and sold it to an independent distributor. It was banned in England for thirty years.
The movie's director, Tod Browning, was best known for a series of highly popular macabre melodramas he had made with silent picture star Lon Chaney in the twenties. Just prior to making Freaks he had made Dracula, with Bela Lugosi. As the result of the controversy surrounding Freaks his career was ruined. He was allowed to make a few more films, but none did well; and his career's momentum, which had been strong in the early thirties, was soon lost. For all intents and purposes Browning gambled his reputation on this one movie, and he lost, badly.
Freaks concerns life in a circus that features a particularly large side show of freaks: pinheads, a bearded lady, midgets, an armless and legless man, and so forth. The story revolves around the efforts of a beautiful 'normal' woman, known as Cleopatra, to woo and wed a midget she knows to be worth a good deal of money. This woman has a lover, Hercules, the circus strong man, and together they plot against the hapless little fellow, who is quite smitten with her. Cleopatra hates her tiny husband and plans to poison him for her inheritance. The midget becomes quite ill from a lethal drink she gives him; however, by this time the other freaks are onto her. As their little friend ails in bed they extract a terrible vengeance for what was done to their comrade.
The bare bones of the story make the film sound better than it is. By no means is Freaks a bad film, but it moves like molasses, and is for the most part badly acted. Its ideas are better than its images. This surely is not the fault of the freaks themselves, who are the best thing about the picture. Despite their appearance they are an engaging lot. In this respect the movie succeeds. We come to like the freaks and care what happens to them. The ideas behind the film are exciting to think about. Normal people are indeed often hateful; and the suffering and crippled souls among us seem far worthier. Beauty has a cruelty about it. But the vehicle that carries these and the other messages that Browning put forth is, sadly, inadequate, and not up to the task.
Yet I highly recommend this film. For all its faults it is, at its best, a powerful and original work. That it deals with the entertainment world cannot but raise the issue of the movie being perhaps a criticism of Hollywood and the studio system, which may also be why it was so despised within the industry. It is a guilty pleasure if ever there was one, but it is, in the end, more interesting to talk about and look back on than to actually experience.
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