Tod Browning’s Freaks 1932

So the title of my blog was never more true to form than at the screening of Freaks at The Music Box in Chicago on 1/7/16. Did I sit in the front row because that’s what I like to do? Uhhhhhh, not really. Did I sit in the front row because that theater was packed to the gills and that was the only seat that was available since I am decades behind in watching this gem? Bingo! After seeing countless clips and scenes from the film in other movies and hearing, “One of us, one of us” and not fully understanding the significance, I am happy to have my first viewing of this masterpiece from start to finish sitting in a theater and watching it on the big screen as if it were 1932. Gooble Gobble, Gooble Gobble I am one of you that has been in awe with this film for so many years. A tale of family, tragedy, revenge but most important of all love.

Freaks tells the story of a traveling circus with Hercules a buffoon of a strong man, Cleopatra a beautiful, cruel and greedy trapeze artist, Phroso a foolhardy clown, Venus a lovelorn seamstress and a band of sideshow curiosity performers who are more family than friends led by 3 ft tall Hans and his fiance Frieda. Hans wants Cleopatra even though he has a good woman in Frieda but men are men and Hans wants to prove he is all man and will win Cleopatra’s heart with gifts galore. Hans doesn’t know Cleopatra is with Hercules and while the lovers laugh behind Hans’ back while enjoying the benefits of his love, his fellow curiosity performers want to make sure their friend is careful and warn him of Cleopatra’s true intentions. Convincing Cleopatra to marry him, after she finds out about Hans’ inheritance after his ex fiance Frieda begs her to be kind, Cleopatra shares her true feelings regarding Hans and his friends at their wedding reception, humiliating Hans by carrying him on her shoulders and berating his friends as FREAKS. What happens after that is plain and simple carnival style justice.  

So you may ask, how or why is this film about love? This film is about love in so many ways. Frieda, loving Hans so truly  even after she is tossed aside asks Cleopatra to be kind to him and not to break his heart even though her heart has been broken. Madame Tetrallini, loving her sideshow “children” as they dance, laugh and play outside in the sun, protecting them from the cruelty of the world. The human skeleton and his love for the bearded lady and their newborn baby daughter, his face beaming as he  hands out cigars to everyone on the birth of his child. The Siamese twins Daisy and Violet and their fiancé’s, each fiance telling the other to make sure to drop by their home sometime and don’t be a stranger. The love of friends, always there for one another and protecting each other no matter what. And Hans, if he had loved himself and been content with the love he received from his fiance Frieda none of this would have happened. 

Now I didn’t think this was a perfect film. While I understand the shock value of showing what Hans and his pals did to Cleopatra, they weren’t Dr. Moreau and I think the screams of the spectators and the imagination of the audience would have been sufficient if not more disturbing. Also, finding out the actors who played Hans and Frieda were brother and sister in real life was a bit odd but they didn’t cross a line with their affection and made me think of Justine and Jason Bateman in an episode of Arrested Development so they have that going for them. 

Freaks was playing at The Music Box Theatre in Chicago and if you have a chance to see it in a theater on the big screen I highly recommend you do it! If you don’t.. rent it, stream it, buy it, VOD it but just see it!