Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Freaks (Rhoades)

“Freaks” Will Freak You Out
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

A few weeks ago we were talking about banned books. Being a film buff, I spoke up to say my favorite banned movie was Tod Browning’s “Freaks.” Banned in the United Kingdom for thirty years, Australia, and several states, this horror film was deemed too horrific because it used real sideshow freaks as actors.

Now you have a chance to see it, for “Freaks” is the Monday Night Classic playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.

Set in a carnival, this is the story of an evil trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) who marries the midget (Harry Earles) for his inheritance. But her avarice isn’t lost on his deformed friends, and at the wedding party they chant that she is “one of us, one of us!” By the end of the film they have made this true.

The cast was supposed to include Victor McLaughlin, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow, but these stars bowed out because they didn’t want to work with a group of human oddities – such as the Half-Boy, Living Skeleton, bearded lady, conjoined twins, Human Torso, or the pinheads Zip and Pip.

The 1932 film so shocked test audiences that MGM edited it down to two-thirds its original length and tried to give it a happier ending. Eventually it was shown under assorted names like “Forbidden Love” and “Nature’s Mistakes.”

Although based on a short story titled “Spurs,” Browning had worked with a traveling circus as a young man and drew on his own experiences. Rather than exploiting these so-called freaks, he had a compassion for them.

Tod Browning is best known as the director of “Dracula,” the classic starring Bela Lugosi. Although he’d already directed 57 films, “Freaks” derailed his career, and he only did four more films afterwards. He died as a recluse. He is remembered in David Bowie’s song “Diamond Dogs.” The album’s cover art features Bowie as a freak, half-man and half-dog.
[from Solares Hill]

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