Long time the standard by which all “Golden Age” Hollywood horror films are compared for a sense of shock and gratuitous exploitation (it was released months before the decades long inception of the Production Code), Tod Browning’s 1932 “Freaks” is actually not a film which, despite the negative fuel of its reputation, deliberately seeks to create an entirely horrific image of the circus freaks who are the source of the more startling images distributed and published in magazines and film books throughout the intervening decades in which the film’s reputation, if anything, has grown. Despite the increased availability of access to the film (for years it was almost impossible to see), the prevailing grotesque impression left by these images has skewered a balanced consideration of the film based more on the individual’s own repulsion of the “abnormal” far more than the somewhat injudiciously manufactured implications of its actual content. Divorced of the context of the Robbins’ original story and the decisions made in the adaption process, it is likely the film will be judged solely on the instinctive revulsion by which first-time viewers may enter into the film with preconceived notions that place a malignant aura about the real-life freaks of the film, rather than regarding the film through a more logical prism, as a series of misguided shifts of empathy which inevitably create many unintended transmutations from text to screen.
The source of the film, Tod Robbins’ 1923 short story Spurs tells the story of the heinous revenge of a very small man- both in physical size and psychological timber -the diminutive Jacques who rides the back of his loyal wolfhound St. Eustice, for the amusement of the patrons frequenting the traveling Rollo’s circus. Jacques is bewitched by the bareback rider Jeanne Marie and entices the beauty into betrothal by revealing he has recently become heir to a sizable fortune. Her plans to wait for what she assumes will be a premature death meets with her own impatience, and on during her wedding banquet she abuses Jacques with derisive vocal offenses which inflame Jacques to the point of pathological vengeance. The story skips forwards a year where a knock on the door of Simon Lafleur’s door introduces a haggard woman, who as it turns out is none other than the same Jeanne Marie, who in the intervening year has undergone a shocking transformation, both physical and psychological; suffering an unrelenting and torturous revenge at the hands of Jacques, whose unappeased wrath over her wedding day insult has caused him to devise a punishment by forcing his bride to literally become a person of her word.
To read the original Tod Robbins story Spurs on which “Freaks is based, simply click the following link to: http://www.olgabaclanova.com/spurs.htm
To read the complete review of “Freaks”, click the following link to: https://chandlerswainreviews.wordpress.com/nights-at-the-coolidge-corner-theatre/