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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Louisvilles own director, Tod Brownings- Freaks 1931


Freaks began filming in October 1931 and was completed in December. Following disastrous test screenings in January 1932 (one woman threatened to sue MGM, claiming the film had caused her to suffer a miscarriage), the studio cut the picture down from its original 90 minute running time to just over an hour. Much of the sequence of the freaks attacking Cleopatra as she lay under a tree was removed, as well as a gruesome sequence showing Hercules being castrated, a number of comedy sequences, and most of the film's original epilogue. A new prologue featuring a carnival barker was added, as was the new epilogue featuring the reconciliation of the tiny lovers. This shortened version -- now only 64 minutes long -- had its premiere at the Fox Criterion in Los Angeles on February 10, 1932.

The central story is of a self-serving trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) who seduces and eventually marries a sideshow midget, Hans (Harry Earles), after learning of his large inheritance. At their wedding reception, the other "freaks" resolve that they will accept Cleopatra in spite of her being a "normal" outsider, and hold an initiation ceremony, wherein they pass a massive goblet of wine around the table while chanting, "We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! One of us! One of us!" The ceremony frightens the drunken Cleopatra, who accidentally reveals that she has been having an affair with Hercules (Henry Victor), the strong man; she mocks the freaks, tosses the wine in their faces and drives them away. Despite being humiliated, Hans remains with Cleopatra.

Shortly thereafter, Hans is taken ill (presumably from having too much to drink at the wedding feast, but actually from poison that Cleopatra slipped him) and Cleopatra begins slipping poison into Hans' medicine to kill him so that she can inherit his money and run away with Hercules. One of the circus performers overhears Cleopatra talking to Hercules about the murder plot, and tells the other freaks and Hans; in the film's climax, the freaks attack Cleopatra and Hercules with guns, knives, and various edged weapons, hideously mutilating them. Though Hercules is never seen again, the original ending of the film had the freaks castrating him - the audience sees him later singing in falsetto. The film concludes with a revelation of Cleopatra's fate: her tongue cut out, one eye gouged and legs hacked off, she has been reduced to performing in a sideshow as the squawking "human chicken".

Spliced throughout the main narrative are a variety of "slice of life" segments detailing the lives of the sideshow performers.

* The bearded woman, who loves the human skeleton, gives birth to their daughter.
* Violet, a conjoined twin whose sister Daisy is married to one of the circus clowns, herself becomes engaged to the owner of the circus. (Once, Daisy appears to react with romantic arousal when Violet is kissed by her suitor, implying that each sister can experience the other's physical sensations.)
* The Human Torso, played by Prince Randian, in the middle of a conversation, takes his own cigarette and lights it, using only his tongue. (In the original scene, he also rolls the cigarette, but the sequence does not appear in any commercial release.)

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