Freaks (1932)

64 mins | Horror | 20 February 1932

Director:

Tod Browning

Cinematographer:

Merritt Gerstad

Editor:

Basil Wrangell

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Spurs. According to HR and FD news items, first Jean Harlow and then Myrna Loy was set for the role of Cleopatra, which was played by Olga Baclanova in the completed film. According to a FD news item, the Flying Codonas were to be in the cast, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. The picture did not open in New York until 8 Jul 1932, and several reviews noted that it had been playing in other parts of the country earlier in the year. Although a 24 Dec 1931 HR news item stated that the picture would soon be playing at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and a 5 Feb 1932 HR news item noted that it would have its Los Angeles premiere on 12 Feb 1932, the exact date of the Los Angeles opening has not been determined.
       The Var review gives the film's running time as 52 minutes, although MPH and FD list it as 64 minutes. A FD news item, printed the day after the picture opened in New York, noted that Freaks was advertised with "a warning that children will not be permitted to see this picture and adults not in normal health are urged not to!" The picture was very controversial, and many reviewers asserted that it would be difficult for audiences to sympathize with the "freaks" in the film because they were real and not created through makeup or special effects. The reviews were mixed in their reactions ... More Less

The working title of this film was Spurs. According to HR and FD news items, first Jean Harlow and then Myrna Loy was set for the role of Cleopatra, which was played by Olga Baclanova in the completed film. According to a FD news item, the Flying Codonas were to be in the cast, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. The picture did not open in New York until 8 Jul 1932, and several reviews noted that it had been playing in other parts of the country earlier in the year. Although a 24 Dec 1931 HR news item stated that the picture would soon be playing at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and a 5 Feb 1932 HR news item noted that it would have its Los Angeles premiere on 12 Feb 1932, the exact date of the Los Angeles opening has not been determined.
       The Var review gives the film's running time as 52 minutes, although MPH and FD list it as 64 minutes. A FD news item, printed the day after the picture opened in New York, noted that Freaks was advertised with "a warning that children will not be permitted to see this picture and adults not in normal health are urged not to!" The picture was very controversial, and many reviewers asserted that it would be difficult for audiences to sympathize with the "freaks" in the film because they were real and not created through makeup or special effects. The reviews were mixed in their reactions to the picture, with one of the most extreme, the 16 Jul 1931 Har review, stating: "Not even the most morbidly inclined could possibly find this picture to their liking. Saying that it is horrible is putting it mildly: it is revolting to the extent of turning one's stomach, and only an iron constitution could withstand its effects....Any one who considers this entertainment should be placed in the pathological ward in some hospital." In the 23 Jul 1932 MPH review, however, the critic was less alarmed: "If Freaks has caused a furore [sic] in certain censor circles the fault lies with the manner in which it was campaigned to the public. I found it to be an interesting and entertaining picture, and I did not have nightmares, nor did I attempt to murder any of my relatives."
       According to Monthly Film Bulletin , Freaks was banned in Great Britain until Aug 1963, when it was finally released with an "X" certificate. Modern sources note that the picture was banned in other countries as well. Modern sources include Murray Kinnell, Elvira Snow and Jennie Lee Snow in the cast, and add the following credits: Prod Irving Thalberg and Harry Sharrock; and Art dir Cedric Gibbons and Merrill Pye. Modern sources also add the following information: Dwain Esper, who acquired the film's distribution rights in 1948, exhibited it under the titles Nature's Mistakes , The Monster Show and Forbidden Love . Esper added a written prologue to the version entitled Nature's Mistakes , describing the history and travails of "misshapen misfits." Although the print viewed was titled Freaks , it included this written prologue. Some modern sources state that it was producer Thalberg who added the prologue when he attempted to re-issue the film in 1933 as Nature's Mistakes . The original ending purportedly showed "Hercules" singing in a music hall, his falsetto voice indicating that the freaks had emasculated him rather than killed him. It is unclear whether a version of the picture with this ending was ever distributed. The 1967 Sonney-Friedman film She Freak , which was directed by David F. Friedman and starred Claire Brennan and Lee Raymond, appears to have been inspired by Freaks (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.4451). More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
4 Nov 31
p. 7.
Film Daily
9 Jul 32
p. 1, 6
Harrison's Reports
27 Feb 32
p. 35.
Harrison's Reports
9 Apr 32
p. 60.
Harrison's Reports
16 Jul 32
p. 114.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 31
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 31
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 31
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Oct 31
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 31
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 31
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 32
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Feb 32
p. 1.
Monthly Film Bulletin
Aug 1963.
---
Motion Picture Herald
23 Jan 32
p. 46.
Motion Picture Herald
23 Jul 32
p. 48.
New York Times
9 Jul 32
p. 7.
Variety
12 Jul 32
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
WRITERS
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Addl dial
PHOTOGRAPHY
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SOUND
Rec eng
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the short story "Spurs" by Tod Robbins in Munsey's Magazine (Feb 1923).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Spurs
Release Date:
20 February 1932
Production Date:
completed mid-December 1931
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Copyright Date:
23 February 1932
Copyright Number:
LP2870
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
64
Length(in reels):
7
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

As horrified people gather round the cage containing one of the members of a carnival's freak show, the barker explains that the pitiful specimen inside was once a beautiful aerialist named Cleopatra, who was known as the "Peacock of the Air," and relates to the crowd: Hans, one of the carnival's dwarfs, is infatuated with Cleopatra's beauty and normal size, much to the dismay of his fiancée Frieda, who is Hans's size. Cleopatra delights in toying with Hans's affections and making Frieda jealous, and she continually borrows large sums of money from Hans. One day, Hercules, the strongman, ends his relationship with Venus, one of the other "normal" members of the carnival, and takes up with Cleopatra, who shares his cruel attitude toward the "freaks." Venus is comforted by one of the clowns, Phroso, and her friends, the freaks. Venus, Phroso and Roscoe, another clown who is married to Daisy Hilton, one of the carnival's Siamese twins, begin to worry about Hans, who is increasingly ignoring Frieda to moon over Cleopatra. Hans breaks off his engagement to Frieda, after which Frieda goes to Cleopatra and begs her to cease leading Hans on. Cleopatra laughs at her, and after Frieda inadvertently tells Cleopatra about Hans' fortune, Cleopatra and Hercules plot against him. Cleopatra and Hans marry, and at the wedding feast, Cleopatra is horrified when the drunken freaks tell her that she is now one of them. She shouts at them, then humiliates Hans by carrying him around on her shoulders. She later reveals to Hans that their marriage is a joke, and after he collapses in hysterics, another dwarf, Angeleno, overhears Cleopatra and Hercules ... +


As horrified people gather round the cage containing one of the members of a carnival's freak show, the barker explains that the pitiful specimen inside was once a beautiful aerialist named Cleopatra, who was known as the "Peacock of the Air," and relates to the crowd: Hans, one of the carnival's dwarfs, is infatuated with Cleopatra's beauty and normal size, much to the dismay of his fiancée Frieda, who is Hans's size. Cleopatra delights in toying with Hans's affections and making Frieda jealous, and she continually borrows large sums of money from Hans. One day, Hercules, the strongman, ends his relationship with Venus, one of the other "normal" members of the carnival, and takes up with Cleopatra, who shares his cruel attitude toward the "freaks." Venus is comforted by one of the clowns, Phroso, and her friends, the freaks. Venus, Phroso and Roscoe, another clown who is married to Daisy Hilton, one of the carnival's Siamese twins, begin to worry about Hans, who is increasingly ignoring Frieda to moon over Cleopatra. Hans breaks off his engagement to Frieda, after which Frieda goes to Cleopatra and begs her to cease leading Hans on. Cleopatra laughs at her, and after Frieda inadvertently tells Cleopatra about Hans' fortune, Cleopatra and Hercules plot against him. Cleopatra and Hans marry, and at the wedding feast, Cleopatra is horrified when the drunken freaks tell her that she is now one of them. She shouts at them, then humiliates Hans by carrying him around on her shoulders. She later reveals to Hans that their marriage is a joke, and after he collapses in hysterics, another dwarf, Angeleno, overhears Cleopatra and Hercules discuss the poison they gave to Hans. The next morning, a doctor examines Hans and reveals that although he was poisoned, he will recover. Venus confronts Hercules, but he refuses to tell her what poison Cleopatra used. A week passes, until one night, after Cleopatra gives Hans some medicine she has doctored, he and the other freaks plot their revenge on her and Hercules. A thunderstorm begins, and some of the freaks chase after Cleopatra while the others prevent Hercules from harming Venus. Hercules is killed, and after a chase, Cleopatra is mysteriously transformed into a grotesque "duck woman" who is put on display with the other freaks. Some time later, Hans and Frieda are happily reunited, while Phroso and Venus continue their romance. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.