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Film maledetto e leggendario, prima prodotto e poi rinnegato dalla MGM, "Freaks" costituisce un inno perturbante alla mostruosità innocente contro la normalità colpevole. Browning temperò la sceneggiatura straziante con una regìa quasi chirurgica nel tentativo - riuscito - di esaltare l'umanità dei freaks senza alcuna morbosità: i protagonisti sono i 'diversi', gli scherzi della natura, che uniti tra loro e regolati da una sorta di legge d'onore, si scontrano con la crudeltà e la perversa attrazione dei 'normali'. (Piero Di Domenico - Ermitage Cinema)
One of the most famous, most shocking and, for much of its existence, most elusive of cult films, Tod Browning's Freaks remains worthy of its dubious top billing by literary critic Leslie Fiedler as the greatest of all Freak movies. At the centre of the story are two circus midgets, Hans and Frieda (already well known in the 1930s through film and advertising appearances as Harry and Daisy Earles), whose marriage plans are blasted when Hans becomes the target of the aerialist Cleopatra's plot to marry him then kill him off for his money. During what is certainly one of the most notorious scenes in cult film history, the wedding party of freaks ritually embrace Cleopatra as one of us. Through her undisguised horror at this and her gruesome punishment by the freaks, the film bluntly confronts viewers about our awkwardness about different bodies while simultaneously stirring up fear and alarm in familiar horror-movie style. Better known for the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931), Brownings showmanship was equally a product of the circus (he was himself an adolescent contortionist in a travelling show). His meshing of circus and cinema--two dangerous entertainments--produces Freaks' uniquely disquieting effect.
Startled and indignant preview audiences forced the producers to add an explanatory foreword to the film but even this crackles with sensationalism as it veers between sideshow-style sympathy and fright warning. None the less, protests and local censorship ensued and the film never reached the mass audience for which it was made. Still, some of the real stars of the midway Ten-in-One shows of the 1920s and 30s (Johnny Eck, Daisy and Violet Hilton the Siamese twins, Prince Randian, the Hindu Living Torso) are showcased here as themselves and it is their undeniably real presence in what is otherwise familiar fictional terrain which is still so provocative. --Helen Stoddart --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.See all Product description
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The DVD includes a commentary, special message prologue and 3 other endings.
The story is quite simple: Hans and Frieda are a pair of midgets in love, but Hans thinks that Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) the bareback rider is beautiful. Cleopatra plays with Hans' affections until she learns he has money. Over the objections of her boyfriend, Hercules (Henry Victor) the freak show strongman, she accepts Hans' proposal. During the wedding feast when the freaks accept her into their ranks, she makes it clear how much she despises them all. But when Hans starts to become ill because of the poison she is feeding him, the freaks decide it is time to take matters into their own hands. The film's climax, when the freaks chase Cleopatra and Hercules during a rainstorm, is truly chilling, although Cleopatra's final fate is as unreal as it is ironic (and was supposed to be even worse: but the scene of Hercules singing soprano in Madame Tetralini's new sideshow--think about it--was too intense for early audiences and was cut).
All Browning really did to terrify audience was to include real freaks in his film, such as Daisy and Violet Hilton the Siamese Twins, Schlitze the Pinhead Girl, Josephine Joseph the Half-Woman/Half-Man, Johnny Eck the Half Boy, Frances O'Connor the Turtle Girl, Peter Robinson the Living Human Skeleton, Olga Roderick the Bearded Lady, Koo Koo the Bird Girl, Martha Morris the Armless Wonder, and Randion the Living Torso, who rolls his own cigarettes despite having neither arms nor legs. The original short story "Spurs" by Tod Robbins had a midget falling for a bareback rider who marries him for his money and at their wedding feast puts her husband on her shoulders and boasts that she will carry him across France. With the aid of his large, angry dog he forces her to do just that. Browning's film expands the scope of the story into something more complex and much more satisfying.
However, the film clearly portrays the "Freaks" with dignity. As Madame Tetrallini (Rose Dione) tells someone, "These are all God's children." The true monsters in this film are the "normal" human beings, who receive their just desserts. But when "Freaks" was relased it was banned in the United Kingdom for thirty years (and is still banned in Sweden). During that period Browning was blackballed in Hollywood. He had promised MGM the ultimate scary movie and given the reaction you have to conclude that he delivered. The film was originally intended to have what we would now consider an A-List cast with Victor McLaglen as Hercules, Myrna Loy as Cleopatra, and Jean Harlow as Venus. However, all of the stars reportedly balked at the prospect being in a film with "sideshow exhibitions."
This 1932 film is clearly Browning's best film, vastly superior to the more famous "Dracula," which, after all, was basically a filmed stage play for the most part. It is not even close. You might screen this film for the first time because of its reputation, but you will watch it again because it is a pretty good film, especially given the time at which it was made.
'Freaks' is the horror story of a group of circus inhabitants, with an array of different handicap's (e.g little girls that look like ugle men & people devoid of limbs.) It was at that time a great controversy understandably, most people in the 1930's probably had never seen such people.
The story is mainly based around a dwarf man, Hans (who has the eternal appearnace of a little boy) who falls for an attractive, well-bodied woman called Cleopatra. She is a gold-digger & takes advantage of the affection Hans has for her by plotting with her actual partner, Hercules a way to get his money. When the 'freaks' find out about her unlawful intentions, she's really in for it.
Part of me didn't feel much sympathy for Hans, he has the love of Frieda (his fiance at the start of the film with the same condition to him).
I find it hard to believe someone with his condition (or anyone)with a great deal of money can truly believe a beautiful, able-bodied woman is truly attracted to him (don't get me wrong I know of hook-ups between dwarfs & average height people, but Hans doesn't seem to question her devotion.)
Hans turns his back on Frieda, who throughout the film stands by him, worships him & makes him feel like a man. She remains faithful & loyal even after Hans chooses to marry Cleopatra.
He turned his back on true love for lust & physical attraction which gives me little sympathy for him.
The acting is understandably amateur, but adequate enough that I wouldn't go as far to say that it is bad.
'Freaks' manages to be a scary, 'Revenge of The Nerds' type movie that well deserves the title of 'cult classic'.
In conclusion I would recommend this film to anyone interested in this era of cinema or classic horror films.
The underlying message of the film? Don't mess with family.
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