Sunday, September 2, 2007
TOD BROWNING'S ASSAULT ON GLAMOUR
BY GARY MORRIS
It’s hard to believe that Freaks was actually produced at MGM, using the studio’s facilities and craftspeople. This is not only because we associate director Tod Browning as much with Universal, especially after the spectacular success of Dracula (1931), as with MGM, but also because in many ways Freaks seems out of place in MGM’s glamour factory, where even the least expensive movie bore the stamp of the studio’s plush style.
Freaks’ opening disclaimer — "For the love of beauty is a deep-seated urge which dates back to the beginning of civilization" — is clearly ironic in light of what follows. Browning, a circus habitué himself, friendly with "fringe" people from hoboes to sideshow tramps, finds beauty not in the physically whole, powerful, conventionally attractive characters (Olga Baclanova’s Cleopatra, Henry Victor’s Hercules), but in the authentic pinheads, armless women, legless men, Siamese twins, and the others who give the film its title. These physically compromised but spirited characters are the true stars.