“Freaks” based on the short story “Spurs” by Tod Robbins, was directed and produced by Tod Browning and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It starred Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova and Roscoe Ates. Featuring real people with deformities, “Freaks” is a tale of good against evil, but to understand the movie, you need to know a bit about the director. Meet me after the jump.
Tod Browning was born Charles Albert Browning in 1880 to a well to do family. He followed his heart and ran away to the circus at the age of 16 with a dancer from the circus and worked his way from a clown to a director of a variety theatre. Meeting up with D.W. Griffin, Browning became an actor and finally a director with his biggest hit being the classic movie “Dracula”. With the making of “Freaks”, Browning’s bold move in casting real people as the sideshow cast instead of using costumes and outlandish makeup was inspired by his own experiences with the circus and with the hope of showing these people as trusting and honorable.
Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) is a beautiful but wicked trapeze artist in the circus and secretly involved with Hercules (Henry Victor). She knows that Hans (Harry Earles) has been left a large inheritance so Cleopatra openly flirts with Hans. The other freaks, including Frieda (Daisy Earles) are suspicious.
Cleopatra convinces Hans to marry her and they have a large wedding reception on the circus grounds. Because they love Hans, the other freaks accept Cleopatra, singing, “We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us, Gooble-gobble, gooble- gobble.” The drunken Cleopatra mocks Hans in front of the wedding guests, but he remains faithful to her. The others are frantic because one of the freaks overhears Cleopatra and Hercules plotting to kill Hans.
The freaks come to the rescue with knives and other sharp objects. Hercules is never seen again and Cleopatra is now a sideshow act called the “human duck”. Hans and Frieda wind up together.
Although the film was negatively received, becoming a subject of extreme controversy that brought Browning’s career to an early end, it is now considered a counterculture cult film. It was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in1994 as being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.