Film Review: Freaks (1932)

Also known as: The Monster Show (working title), Forbidden Love, Nature’s Mistakes (informal titles)
Release Date: February 12th, 1932 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon
Based on: Spurs by Tod Robbins
Cast: Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova, Roscoe Ates

Loew’s Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 64 Minutes

Review:

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!” – Freaks

Freaks was a pretty controversial film when it came out, even though by today’s standards, it’s incredibly tame. But the movie features a cast of actual carnival “freaks” and people with other handicaps and deformities. It was even outright banned in the UK for decades.

I like this movie quite a bit, though. It’s something that I watched with my granmum as a kid, as she was pretty into old school horror. I think this film also sort of developed my love of carnivals and “freak shows” when I was still a kid.

For being a movie with a lot of mostly inexperienced non-actors, this is surprisingly well acted for the era. The regular actors are all pretty decent but the “freaks” themselves really stepped up to the plate and gave genuine feeling performances too.

The story is about a gold digger, who tries to trick a rich dwarf into marriage so that she can kill him and take his money. Over the course of the film, the “freaks” decide to accept her and the situation, however, she loses her shit when they are celebrating their acceptance of her.

Ultimately, she’s got a big f’n mouth and the “freaks” become privy to her sinister plot, which ends very, very poorly for her. So poorly, in fact, that I’m not going to spoil the shock ending for those who haven’t seen this.

This is a really short film at just 64 minutes but it also tells a perfectly paced story that didn’t need more time and used the time it did have very effectively.

The director, Tod Browning, had worked in horror before and actually did multiple movies with silent horror master Lon Chaney, Sr. He transitioned well into a “talkie” picture and also made something that was as visually compelling as his previous gems.

Freaks is a much better movie than people might expect. I mean, it’s barely horror, compared to what we consider horror today, but it still has one really terrifying and disturbing moment that makes up for what some might consider a lack of horror.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: London After Midnight – Reconstructed Version (1927/2002)

Also known as: Der Vampyr (Austria), The Hypnotist (UK)
Release Date: December 3rd, 1927
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Waldemar Young, Joseph W. Farnham
Based on: The Hypnotist by Tod Browning
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr., Marceline Day, Conrad Nagel, Henry B. Walthall, Polly Moran, Edna Tichenor, Claude King

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 65 Minutes, 47 Minutes (reconstructed version) 

Review:

There probably aren’t many people alive who have seen London After Midnight, as the only surviving print of this 1927 film went up in flames during the 1965 MGM vault fire.

The version of this film that I watched was a reconstruction, which originally aired on Turner Classic Movies back in 2002. So this is a review of that and not the actual finished movie itself. So the final rating below doesn’t reflect the actual film, as I haven’t seen it.

That being said, the reconstruction was done as best as it could be with the material that was available. They worked off of the script and used production stills to represent the scenes.

While this doesn’t have the life of a moving picture and doesn’t really capture the full performance of the legendary Lon Chaney Sr., the stills do a good job of painting the right kind of picture and showing you the tone within the film.

I wasn’t crazy about the film’s score but it does feel accurate to the scores of the time when this originally came out. It just sounds a bit generic, overall.

If you are a Chaney fan, you should give this a watch because it’s as close as one can get to experiencing this film, which was considered to be one of Chaney’s greatest performances.

Hopefully, one day, another print will resurface but being that it’s been lost for 53 years, that may be very unlikely.

Recently, some footage was found but it was just scenes clipped for a trailer. Still, maybe an updated reconstruction with that footage will be edited together in the future.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Lon Chaney Sr. horror pictures of the 1920s.

Film Review: The Unknown (1927)

Also known as: Alonzo the Armless (working title)
Release Date: June 3rd, 1927 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Tod Browning, Waldemar Young
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr., Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 63 Minutes, 49 Minutes (BFI print), 49 Minutes (alternate cut)

Review:

“You are right, Alonzo… brute strength does not mean everything to all women. Alonzo, all my life men have tried to put their beastly hands on me… to paw over me. I have grown so that I shrink with fear when any man even touches me.” – Nanon

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first iconic horror actor. Some others dabbled in the genre and were in multiple films but none made the impact that Chaney did at the time. He was the original King of Terror.

Even though he often time played facially disfigured characters, he would also modify his body to fit the role. In this film, his face was normal but he worked with his arms bound in a corset for most of the picture, as his character was believed to be armless.

Now there is a twist where you find out that he indeed has his arms but he goes on to get them chopped off for the love of a girl.

The story is dark and twisted and it’s very evil and very primal. It is still hauntingly effective and has aged just about as well as a silent film can.

Chaney plays Alonzo, a circus performer that uses his feet to do a myriad of tricks. The reason for the ruse is because he is wanted for a murder but all that is known about the suspect is that he has a double thumb. To hide this deformity, Alonzo goes through life with his arms bound tightly under his clothing.

He falls in love with Nanon, however, and she has an issue with men’s hands touching her. She feels safe around Alonzo because he has no hands to grab her. After a kiss, Alonzo decides to have his arms removed so that Nanon doesn’t find out his dark secret. Plus, she witnessed a man with a double thumb murder her father.

However, after spending weeks recovering, Alonzo returns to discover that Nanon has overcome her fear and is marrying the circus strongman.

The story is insane but it’s damn good and entertaining. It fits a lot into the short running time.

Also, Nanon is played by a very young Joan Crawford, well before she became a superstar.

The film is well shot and the tone is perfect. This is one of the best Chaney movies and Tod Browning utilized the actor’s talents well. The film builds suspense at the right pace and the big finale is a satisfactory payoff.

I love this movie and it really should be considered a silent horror classic. While it’s not as well known as it should be, it’s pretty exceptional and a spectacular production for its era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other collaborations between Tod Browning and Lon Chaney Sr.