For Reel

Freaks (1932)
July 18, 2012, 2:29 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Tod Browning

Surely one of the most unlikely projects ever commissioned by MGM production head Irving Thalberg, Freaks is famed for its casting of real sideshow workers in major roles. Though the chilling climax – in which the freaks violently pursue the two treacherous lovers who sought to exploit a little person – has become iconic as a macabre slasher prototype, it is uncharacteristic of the rest of the picture, which is often quite warm-hearted, playing up the affection that the performers have for one another. In fact, few films have ever rendered the presumed “monsters” so compassionately (ignoring the tonal misjudgment of the third act). The acting often leaves something to be desired, with The Unholy Three star Harry Earles and his sister Daisy (playing his fiancee) not particularly suited for their extended dramatic parts. Regardless, it is admirable that Tod Browning wisely evades shameless exploitation – although the disabilities are certainly played up during each character’s introduction, they later become an after-thought, or, in the case of Prince Randian (“The Human Torso”), depicted as unexpectedly high-functioning.