Release Date: February 12, 1932
Director: Tod Browning
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Freaks is a movie that straddles a line between an exploitation movie and a film that provides a compassionate depiction of people with disabilities and little people. That the movie was promoted as “horror” makes it lean towards exploitation since there is no horror in this film beyond what viewers bring with themselves when they see people with atypical bodies as monsters. I think more accurately this movie is a slice-of-life drama set among the performers of a traveling circus, that’s built around a love triangle, that eventually becomes a revenge story.
I like the slice-of-life parts best where we see people with dwarfism, conjoined twin sisters (Daisy and Violet Hilton), a man with microcephaly (Schlitzie) as well as the clown Phroso (Wallace Ford) and the sea lion trainer Venus (Leila Hyams) go about their day. Much of the cast were actual circus performers. The main plot involves the trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) wooing the little person Hans (Harry Earles), breaking the heart of his betrothed, Frieda (Daisy Earles). Cleopatra is really scheming because she knows that Hans has inherited great wealth. The final part of the film depicts the family of “freaks” teaming up to avenge Hans when Cleopatra tries to kill him for his money. This could be seen as the scary party of the movie, but in reality, Cleopatra is the only monster in this film.
This movie was different and better than I expected, but I still felt weird about watching it.