We jump back about 100 years and talk about a job that is rare – circus freaks. The term freaks meant something different back then compared to now. It is a job that doesn’t exist as much today, so it makes this movie all the more interesting to catch a glimpse into the world from another time.
This film also holds an interesting place in history, because it was made before the Hayes movie code was created and it got into a bit of a limbo. It was considered very scary, cutting edge and banned in many places, but was kept alive through the years. And Guillermo Del Toro loves it.
Since a large part of this film was cut and it’s such an influential piece of film, there are a couple sites that contain some hints as to what the missing stuff is. We have nothing to do with these sites, but wanted to offer for anyone’s enjoyment.
so onto another episode. We’re still in season four jobs, and this week we’ve got an interesting job.
We have circus performers, essentially.
Rhys: Yes, we do. The movie we’re talking about today is Freaks. It is a film made in America in 1932. Unlike most of our podcasts, we’ll have production notes and our thoughts, and that might be about 40% of it. And then 60% of it is us talking about the movie.
It’s actually gonna be swapped this time. Yes. One because the movie’s only an hour long. An hour and four minutes. Four minutes, yes. But two, this is perhaps one of the most heavily studied and written about horror movies that no one knows exist existed.
Stephen: Yes. I don’t even know if I knew about it. And it’s interesting, it’s horror because it is so different than anything else.
For most of the thing, it’s set up to the horror part, which is the shortest part. Other than I was thinking about this now, and this is a. One of our new age trigger warnings for people. When we’re talking about the movie Freaks, they are talking about circus performers and people that have deformities, people without legs, people without arms, people with a conjoined twin bearded lady.
And kids that probably had down syndrome or something along those lines. But they were at, and this is a hundred years ago, so you know, not to. That we’re pushing an agenda of slamming anybody, but that’s what the movie is about. It was an early attempt to show, hey, these people that everyone thinks of as freaks are not, they’re just like us.
They have lives similar to ours just because they have a physical deformity that is not unquote normal. So just, warning for everybody about the movie and anything we may say that we’re talking about the movie in the context of 1930.
Rhys: Yeah. For the majority of the podcasts I’ll refer to the more likely as circus performers than I will freaks because they were circus performers and this movie probably 60 to 70% of it really is just normalizing their lives.
Yes. To the viewer. Yeah. And
Stephen: for an old movie, an old black and white movie, just barely out of the silent film era, it does a pretty good job of showing various sides of it. Cuz you, and we’ll talk about this more I’m sure, but you have the people in there that make fun of them and that dismiss them and people using them for their own thing and thinking of different.
So I, I think it did a pretty good, it’s a pretty good study in cultural reaction to this. And for now, it’s a good look at how things really have changed for, for everyone that’s, oh yeah, we need this and that. Different, which I don’t disagree with, but there have been changes and there has been a cultural shift in how we view things, which is, makes this movie completely different than most of the rest of them.
Rhys: would actually put this akin to watching Song of the South. Oh, I hear that. If you’re gonna sit down and watch that, it is by today’s standards blatantly racist. Yes. It wasn’t the intention that they had when they made it, but that’s where society was at the time. So if you want a good glam, good GL at how racist society was, song of the South is a good movie to look at.
If you can find it, it’s very difficult. Yeah. Also similar to that. And not just because of the movie. The movie itself does a nice job of showing you the discrepancy between how normal society treats these people and how these people treat normal society and each other. But when we get into the production notes and the history of this film, it gets even uglier than the movie.
Wow. Wow. Yeah.
Stephen: And I was thinking, watching it, that this isn’t much of a horror movie, actually. It’s almost a love story in many ways. Yep. Which made me think of King Kong and Dracula. But at the time it was filmed at and made, It was the horrific, it was the horror movie. Oh my God, I can’t believe that person has no legs.
And No, but that’s not even ha it was Half Boy wasn’t even somebody that doesn’t have legs. It was Half Boy. And oh my gosh, those weird. That’s I can imagine at the time, the way they always described it was the women going, oh, I can’t watch this. That type of thing. And it, that’s where it gets a core moniker.
But now watching it, it’s, to me it didn’t seem as horrific except for the one part near the end. Yeah.
Rhys: It’s not a horrific movie at all. However, at the time, the guy who made it was given the instruction, make the most horrific movie you can.
Stephen: And they obviously have not seen Martyrs, right?
Not in 1932, they didn’t. Freaks is based on a book, actually, not a book. It’s a short story, way back when. For you youngins. People would write short stories and they would submit them to magazines, and magazines would come out and they would have a whole bunch of short stories in them. And in this case, this was Muncy Magazine.
February of 1923, a guy named Todd Robbins wrote a story called Spurs, and it involves a little person and a full-sized woman who he’s obsessed with, but who treats him poorly. The story was purchased by MGM to turn into a movie for Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces. The downside to it was he died from lung cancer in 1930 before they could actually get the movie made.
So we’re gonna go back in time a little bit and talk a little bit about the history that led up to this
Stephen: And right there though that, that, that’s a whole discussion right there with corporation because the way the story is the movie, it’s showing their lives, normalizing them, like you said, and showing how the real the monsters aren’t the monsters, it’s the people and the quote unquote normal society is where the monsters are in this movie.
And I don’t think this would’ve
this is early days.
Stephen: There you are. It’ll just keep going. So that’s good.
Rhys: So I hope
yes, you do that. Are you frozen?
Stephen: Are we back? Yes, I believe so. Okay. All right. So I was saying and honestly, if they had put Cheney in it, it would’ve been a completely different movie, I think. And I think they would be missing the point of the movie by just trying to put their star in it and get the box office ratings or whatever, because, oh, it’s a Cheney horror movie, and it may not have even done that.
Rhys: Yeah. So we’re talking about 1932. The advent of sound had happened maybe four years prior to that, right? And there was a lot of success with sound, with black and white films that were horror based, like the cabinet of Dr. Ari the Phantom carriage, which we reviewed back in season one or 2, 2, 2, I think reviewed season two.
Yes. They’re pushing the horror genre onto the public. Out of that, out of this period, once sound became a thing you had such greats as the Phantom of the Opera, the one that, you know, if you’re thinking about it, the images you get. That’s the movie Dracula Frankenstein. At this point in the United States, there was no governing body to control the content of films.
Some of the biggest, one of the biggest genre to like offend people were like the gangster films of the day. They were low cut dresses. They were violent deaths, that kind of thing. There was this guy in 1930 named William H. Hayes. He was the president of the motion picture, producers and Distributors of America.
And he instituted what became known as the Hayes Code. The code itself was written by a guy named Martin Quigley and Father Daniel Lord Catholic Priests. They came up with it in 1929 because silent films were okay in their eyes, but when you in introduce sound into it, they were afraid of what that would do to the children.
Stephen: And you and I are products of that through the years. Absolutely. Look how we turned out.
Rhys: The code itself is broken down into 36 points. It has 11 band items and 25 for which you have to exercise special care. So you don’t include things like swearing, drug trafficking, sexual perversion.
These are all banned items. You cannot ridicule the clergy. That is a banned item.
Rhys: hilarious. No white slavery. Apparently black slavery is okay, but no white slavery is allowed. And then the 25 cautioned items include things like use of the flag. Be careful when you have a flag involved.
Arson the use of firearms, sympathy for criminals sedition rape, the deliberate seduction of girls, and you have to be super careful if you have a man and a woman in bed together. So this was the code. It was implemented in 1930, but it wasn’t really strictly enforced until about 1934. By the time 1934 arrives, if you had anything that violated the code, it was not getting distributed.
One of the best things to see is if you can go back and find yourself. Betty Boop cartoons. Yeah. You watch the pre 1934 Betty Boop cartoons and there is flat out, Yeah. Genitalia flying around at times 1934. All of a sudden she has a shirt that’s buttoned all the way to the top with a white frilly collar and her skirt’s a considerable bit longer.
Yeah. Because of the production code Freaks is one of the films that is pointed to as that pushed the code into active enforcement. Wow.
Stephen: Again, we’ve talked about this with the history of a lot of the different movies, the older ones. It’s almost amazing that’s what happened, cuz you watch this and it’s a pretty tame movie by some of the standards we have today.
Rhys: In a nutshell, just a little bow We’ll start off. Freaks is a film about a group of sideshow performers, the leader of which is a little person, and he’s being grif by beautiful trapeze artist and her lover until the community of freaks find out and they turn on them. Yep. That’s the whole movie in a nutshell.
This is one of Guillermo del Toro’s favorite films.
Stephen: Interesting. Yeah.
Rhys: The movie was so controversial when it came out. Several states refused to allow it to be shown. It was initially banned in Australia and it was banned in Great Britain for 30 years. Wow. You were not allowed to watch this movie until the sixties.
Some of the states that banned the movie still haven’t changed their existing laws. So technically it would be illegal for you to be watching this
Stephen: movie. Okay. So if you’re listening to this in one of those states don’t keep listening and don’t watch the movie. Put it up there
Rhys: with you’re not allowed to punch a horse named Clyde that kinda lie.
Stephen: Yeah. Don’t leave nickels on the sidewalk if it’s July and whatever el other rules
Rhys: there are. And why is this? It’s because the sideshow performers were played by actual circus and vaudeville show freaks. And by that term, the performance term freaks. These are people who had some sort of physical disability and they made a living on vaudeville shows and side shows as opposed to geeks who were people who had specific gifts like being able to eat glass or sword swallowing.
Stephen: And both of those terms, it’s very interesting you mentioned that cuz they have evolved and changed and don’t mean the same as what they meant back then and that’s only a hundred years difference. Yep. In that,
Rhys: and for a lot of these people, this is the only living they could make doing this. MGM was so concerned about the backlash of this movie.
They tried to just quash its release altogether. So while the movie costs about $300,000 to make a lot of money back then, it only grossed $4,000 from theaters. There’s actually an urban legend that MGM took the master for the film out into San Francisco Bay and threw it into the ocean.
Stephen: Oh, they didn’t bury it with the ET cartridges.
Rhys: What someone points out is back then the films Actually had silver in them, so they would never actually do that. They would just recycle it to get the silver out of it and then throw the rest of the film away. But, it’s a nice little, yeah. Story to throw on it. It’d
Stephen: be even better if it was like saved by some group of renegades, circus performers.
And it still travels. The country today passed from, wagon to wagon.
Rhys: We wish that was the case. Originally the film was an hour and 36 minutes long. Wow. Really. And they tested it and the test audience was so repulsed by it. MGM came back to Todd Browning, the director, and they’re like, we’re gonna cut this.
And they cut. 32 minutes out of it. And so there is, if you look around, there’s hashtag the Browning cut, people wanting to see the original, but it does not exist. You can’t find the original. You can find the screenplay and we’ll make notes have notes about that as we go along where stuff got cut because you can read it in the screenplay, but we’ll never, ever be able to actually see it.
Interesting. Over time, and we’ll talk about this more in depth a little bit later, the film became a cult hit. It’s been nominated for three awards and it won one, it one nominated in 1994, 2005 and 2020, and I believe it won in 2005. I don’t remember for sure. Nice. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM at the time, he saw the cast that was involved with film.
And he tried to get the picture canceled right away. And we’re we’re going to talk about a producer, which almost never happens. But there was a producer at the time named Irving Thalberg and he convinced him otherwise. In fact, Irving Thalberg fought very hard to make sure that this movie got made because it was his idea.
He was a producer who went to Todd Browning, and he’s the one who said, I want you to make a horror movie that’s worse than anything else that’s out there. And the main reason they were saying that was because Frankenstein came out and did so well. So MGM wanted something to punch back with. So Thalberg had worked on 89 films.
He died in 1936, so he never really made it. Much out of the sound period. He was one of the 36 founders of the original Academy of Motion, picture of o of the Arts. Oh, interesting. On the day of the funeral, MGM shut the studio down for five minutes of silence. Just outta respect for the guy. He was incremental in so many films and he refused to have his name associated with any of them.
He didn’t want anyone to know that he was so key in getting these movies made, so you will not find his name in credits. Wow. And he actually created the term film editor up to that point. They were just referred to as cutters, but he thought that sounded not as impressive as it should have been.
So he came up with an new term for them. Nice. There is another urban legend, and we’re not really sure if this is true, however, the result was true. When they did freaks. They had the largest concentration of circus performers in one place at any one time. I bet at the film, and in fact, fries is supposed to be a, the story of a small circus traveling through Europe.
However, the number of circus performers they had in it was like four times the size of any circus. Even like Ringling Brothers had nowhere near this many performers. It’s it’s kind of hyperbole
Stephen: and it’s different than the circuses. We think of even the greatest Showman movie from a couple years ago, because I think the only real animal we see is some guy wrestling a bull to the ground.
So those ponies Oh yeah, that’s right. The ponies the little ponies. Yep. But they, it wasn’t lions and tiger and elephants and zebras and tons of animals. It was performers with a skill or the ability to astonish. And that’s what people went to see. And later tho those people got relegated to the side, the maze of horrors or the,
Rhys: that’s why it was the side show.
Yeah. Because it was outside of
Stephen: the main tent. Yeah. So totally different era and different way things were, than what we think of.
Rhys: So you had all of these performers at MGM Studios while they were filming this, and the story has it, that f Scott Fitzgerald was there working on something and he walked into the cafeteria at MGM and seeing them all there, made him nauseous.
He couldn’t stand to be in the room, so he had to flee the area. Whether or not it’s true. And one of the things they point to is that he actually wrote a short story shortly after this about sideshow performers. Whether or not that’s true, so many stars at MGM complained that the cast were forced to eat at tables outside.
Stephen: Yeah. So right there, there’s a difference in today’s world. But the thing is now we’ve got completely different groups of people that are being marginalized and pushed off, and that if someone came in and conjoined twin or missing arms, people are holding the doors and, totally different viewpoint.
Most people. Yeah. Okay. I’ll give you, there’s always most people.
Rhys: Yeah. There’s always ignorant people, no matter where you’re at
Stephen: for any, yeah. They’ll just grasp onto whatever at the moment. Obviously as the political statement for the day, obviously, People like these freaks in the movie didn’t destroy society and didn’t harm all the kids to grow up.
So let’s move on and find a different one to Yeah. Spit upon. Yeah. Because these ones really will destroy society. There you go. So
Rhys: Even at that, with MGM being so MGM was stoked, it cost 300,000 to make the film, but MGM was so cheap with it. They recycled all of the circus wagons and stuff, and the sets from earlier circus movies.
And apparently the wiring for the lighting and stuff was so cheap and crappy that. Performers were constantly getting shocked, just walking across the floor. Oh, geez. But MGM still tried to spin the controversy of this film by marketing as a courageous film meant to humanize deformity. Wow. Really
Stephen: saying one thing and doing another.
Rhys: Yeah. They had problems casting the film because the three main normal stars that they wanted to cast in here all balked at the notion of having to work with sideshow performers. So the film was made and they tested it, I think, in San Francisco. And when they tested the film, it was horribly received by the test subjects.
MGM wanted to pull it, but it was way too late. They’d sunk all its money into it, they already had it, distribution dates set up. So instead they cut the film drastically. When people heard it was so controversial, they flocked to the theater showing it cuz they wanted to see it
Stephen: breaking. There’s something that hasn’t changed.
Rhys: Breaking the records for attendance and they advertised that this was the last time you were gonna be able to see the unedited version. So it completely packed out the theater on that night before the edit diversion came out again, that cut material is gone in the few places there where the film did run, it did very poorly in the theaters with five cities that were exceptions where it did quite well.
Houston, who knows Omaha? Ok, Boston. I can kinda see that. Yeah. And the last two are Cincinnati and Cleveland did very well in Ohio.
Stephen: I guess that does explain us in some ways. Yeah. Interesting.
Rhys: MGM kept holding off showing the film in New York because that’s where the national press was. So they held off until the absolute last minute they could, and then they showed it.
And when it opened there it did so poorly with the critics who were so offended. Meyer got his wish and pulled it from distribution. One of the side points that people pointed it to in the original cut of the film was that they didn’t, the things they didn’t like was that the normal people in the film were portrayed as callous, uncaring, ignorant, or unintelligent.
While all of the freaks were all kindly savvy and humane individuals.
Stephen: Oh my God. So they couldn’t handle the truth. Yes. And I’ll say one of the great things I know about this movie is. There’s no CG in it, folks. There’s no green screens and stuff going on. The, the boy walking around on his hands really
Rhys: was, yes.
Yeah. And in fact, when we get to it, I’m gonna go through and cover almost the entire cast of the circus performers, just because for a vast number of them, this is the only film they ever did. Yeah.
Stephen: Yep. I noticed that,
Rhys: Once the film was shelved by mgm, this gets even shadier if it’s possible. Once it was shelved by mgm, there was an exploitation road show specialist.
I didn’t even know such a job existed or I’d applied a long time ago. His name was Dwayne Esper, and he got control of the rights, and he would travel the US and show the film under such luted titles as forbidden love and nature’s mistakes. And when he was in a community that he thought he could get away with it, after he was done with that, he would spool up footage from a nudist camp and show that afterwards.
And so that’s how the film traveled the United States from like 1932 until the sixties.
Stephen: So it, it really kept its side show performing roots going on. Yes, exactly. Underground showing roots, I should say. That’s, that is so crazy.
Rhys: And it was during showings like this that it suddenly became normalized because in the late sixties, the term freak took on a completely new meaning.
It was a positive meaning. Members of the counterculture began to watch the film for its content and its message, not just as a voyeuristic exploration of people with disabilities. And over time it became a cult hit. So by the end of the sixties, after 30 years, great Britain lifted the band. You were allowed to watch freaks all of a sudden.
And in the eighties and nineties it was promoted as a cult film, which, back then a cult film was a good thing. Yeah. You might not know where to watch it. You might have to find out from people in the know, but it was a good thing. And quantify things in lists. This film showed up on several from the American Film Institute to Entertainment Weekly to the Steven Schneider list of 1,001 movies to watch Before You Die.
Stephen: yep. I’ve got it on the list. Yep.
Rhys: Barker Brothers made a. Diorama of the cast in the 1990s, one of those models with the, oh, that’s pretty cool. And Monster Comics did a four issue miniseries based on the film. Interesting. Yeah. And that brings us to Todd Browning. Todd Browning was the director of this film.
He started back in the in the silent film era, and he started out as an actor, not a director. He ended up getting into directing and he actually did quite well in the he did quite well directing silent films. His films were not big hits with the. Critics because they found them trite and, throw off.
Some of them were offensive, but the audiences loved them and they made lots of money. And so through the silent film era he made all kinds of movies. When it switched to sound, he had a much harder time. And one of the main reasons was because when he was shooting silent films, he would get right to the edge of the frame and he would be talking to the actors all the way through the scene, directing them as they were going.
And that’s not something you can do when you have sound involved. Yeah, one of the things that he had done, one of the movies he had made was a film called The Unholy three. It starred Lon Chaney and it starred Harry Earls, who is the main protagonist in freaks. He’s the little person who’s in charge of the sideshow, and Harry Earls is the one who brought the story Spurs to Browning, which was the name of the story.
This was based on saying, Hey, maybe we should buy this. The main reason he did it, he didn’t have too many films that he could appear in, right? He knew if they bought that he had a really good chance of being cast in it.
Stephen: That’s how you network and keep your business going. Yep.
Rhys: The funny thing is Browning, when he was 16 years old, ran off and joined a circus.
He became a geek in the tr and he became a, an escape artist. I believe. They would tie him up and stick him in a bag or whatever. And then after so much time, he’d escape. So he actually grew up, in his formative years with the circus sideshow performers that he has in this movie. He did a lot of crime dramas at MGM during the silent era.
Then he left to go to Universal and Universal tagged him to direct a little film you might know of called Dracula.
Stephen: I think I’ve seen that one. Yeah. Yeah.
Rhys: He did not like all of the, I don’t wanna say business practices. He didn’t like the behind the scenes stuff at Universal. I don’t know that it was awful or anything.
It might’ve just been bureaucratic or something. So he went back to MGM and the thought was when they brought him back to mgm, he would catch them up in the horror genre because he had just done this massive hit of Dracula. So he was told just make the greatest horror film ever made. And he turned down a huge blockbuster film at the time.
I can’t even remember what it was called cuz none of us know it anymore. But he turned it down to make this film.
Stephen: Huh. And right there though, I think their definition and his definition of greatest horror film ever were completely different. And I think that probably was a part of the problem right there.
Rhys: Yeah. I think they were saying horror film and he was thinking spectacle.
Stephen: They’re thinking pop culture, popcorn movie. Yeah.
Rhys: For the time. Yeah. A lot of the executives were really leery of the film in general, but Browning pushed it and Irving Thalberg was 110% behind him in the end. He did 62 films.
He died in 1962. He had acted in 54 films, and almost all of those were around 1916 or before. Yeah. He was, like I said, very successful in the silent era. He had Dracula and one or two other sound films, the unholy three. Before he did freaks and after freaks things became much rougher for him. He became a recluse, he was an alcoholic.
He made four more films after that, and he didn’t even credit himself on two of them as the director. Yeah. He had made enough money over the years and did well enough in hanging onto it that he was still able to retire to Southern California and he owned two different homes there, but he never did any interviews after the fact.
So nobody really, we don’t have any input from him about this project.
Rhys: so he had got, he had a hard time getting the people he wanted to for the film. Again, we’d mentioned it because of the nature of the film and the actors. So he was really pretty brilliant. He took. An actress named Olga Beva to take the role of Cleopatra, who is the main antagonist in this film.
And one of the things that the other actresses who turned him down said that the concept of her being intimate with Henry Earls was disquieting. Olga didn’t seem to mind that as a concept, but one of the interesting things that he did was he went to her because she was 34 years old and in Hollywood back then, 34 was like the end of your career because after that you were just too old.
They wouldn’t have asked you in anything. Yeah.
Stephen: Boy Tom Cruise would’ve had trouble. Yeah.
Rhys: She played Cleopatra. She had been in 35 total films. She died in 1974, but there was this big lull in the middle of her career after Freaks came out. So Freaks came out and then she had no work for six to eight years and then was able to start back up.
Henry Victor played Hercules, who is her secret lover in the film. He was very prolific, even after Freaks came out because he’s German. Okay. And you might say, what’s that? Gotta do with anything? He has a natural German accent and Freaks came out in 1932 and. They wanted an actor they had worked with an authentic German accent to play the bad guys in all of the movies for the next 10 years.
All the warm
Stephen: movies and everything. Yep. Oh,
Rhys: there you go. Yeah, he was always the commandant to that kind of thing. He did 106 films before he died in 1945. Yeah. Wallace Ford played Rozo. He’s a clown for character wise. He’d been in 166 film throughout his career, passing away in 1966. And he wasn’t he went on to continue to do some horror films.
He was in the Mummy’s Hand and the Mummy’s tomb playing the same character. That was a series apparently. He was also in in Lassie and he was on the Andy Griffiths, Joe on Times. He’s really a fascinating guy. He was born with the name Samuel Grundy in Manchester, England. He ended up separated from his parents at a very young age.
And I’m not exactly sure how that happened, but he got sent into the orphanage system. Not only did he get sent to the orphanage system, he was transferred to an orphanage home in Toronto because the orphanages in England were too full. When he got to Toronto, he lived in 17 different foster homes before he ran away at the age of 11 and joined a vaudeville show.
Wow. After he’d been in the vaudeville show for a few years, he grabbed his friend and they decided to ride the rails across America. So they were basically hobos riding the rails across America, but his friend got crushed by a rail car. Wow. And died, and his friend’s name was Wallace Ford. So when Samuel Grundy made it big in Hollywood, in tribute to his good friend, he changed his name to Wallace Ford.
Rhys: Yeah. Lila Hams played Venus, and I’m not exactly sure what Venus did for the circus. She’s, she doesn’t have any deformities or anything like that. She is fro Zoe’s romantic connection. She had been in 35 films, but she retired in 1935. Whether or not it had anything to do with freaks or not, who knows?
She said that she retired so she could concentrate on her marriage and her family, but she died in 1977.
Roscoe eights played. Roscoe. And he was another clown. He was in 153 films in his career, so super prolific. He died in 62, but he just kept on working and he was in films that you and I and our listeners will know. He was like in King Kong. He was in Alice in Wonderland, gone With the Wind. The Adventures of Rin Tinton Maverick Hitchcock presents the Untouchables the Red Skeleton Hour.
He was married to an actress named Barbara Ray. They got divorced and then they got married again five years later. Ok. Yeah, so
Stephen: interesting to see how. Some people their careers it didn’t even affect and others it was very negative. It’s, probably a lot to do with character cuz I still think that, today it’s very difficult for some people to separate the actor from the characters.
Yeah. And you put those stereotypes on the actor for good or bad. An example would be Jar, that poor man got death threats. Yeah. And he was doing what the script said and what Lucas told him,
Rhys: and I think it’s also pertinent to point out that the people who struggled the most, not counting the sideshow performers were the ladies.
Both of them had Yeah. Serious career issues once they were done.
Stephen: Yeah. And the sign of the times right there again another one.
Rhys: Yeah. So now we’re gonna turn to the actual sideshow performers who were in this Harry and Daisy Earls. There were two of them who were leading actors. And it’s the ringmaster, the little person, ringmaster, and then his fiance wa was who Daisy played.
They were actually, if you note that when they played as engaged people, there wasn’t a whole lot romantically between them because they’re siblings. They came from a family of four. Harry’s real name was Kurt Schneider. There you go. He had three si, three sisters. Daisy was the tallest in the family.
They both went on to have rules in the Wizard of
Stephen: Oz. Of course. Yeah. Yeah. The Wizard of Oz and Returned the Jedi were the two that got, yeah. That was the big claim for people that were short stature. Yeah.
Rhys: Peter Robinson was the living skeleton. He weighed a total of 58 pounds. He was super well known to the circus world.
He, the circus world knew of Peter Robinson. He was married to a circus fat lady named Bunny Smith, who weighed 4 67 pounds.
Stephen: He was, she wouldn’t even qualify for her own TV show nowadays, right?
Rhys: Yeah. Maybe the two of them together.
He was really into politics and his convictions, and he was constantly, entering into debate and things like that.
Freaks his only film, Martha Morris and Francis O’Connor were both born with without arms and could perform everyday tasks easily with their feet. In fact, Francis would sign autographs with her feet, feed herself, crochet and so on. She was very well known in the circus community, and again, freaks the only film I could find that they were both in Microencephaly.
There were several micro encephalitic people represented by three different actors. Jenny Lee and Elvira Snow were in the circus and they were as the last of the Aztec children. And the reason they were, it was because micro encephalitis people have a very small skull, and it had already been established that it turns out it was the Mayans, not the Aztecs.
But you know what does modern culture know? Exactly. They would bind their heads to make them smaller and more elongated. So they were promoted at the time as a missing link to humanity’s past Schlitt or Simon Mertz. He was incredibly charming. Everybody loved Schultze. He had been in five films, grand Total, by the end of his career, far more than most of the other sideshow performers.
He did have to have a handler, like a nurse to help him at all times on the set. And in the sideshow world, he did magic tricks, which I think is just, like slight of hand stuff. He did have incontinence problems, which is why he was in a dress. Oh, okay. So if you look at the micro encephalitic characters in the film, there’s three of them.
They’re all wearing dresses, they’re all referred to as female schitz. See was actually a guy, prince Randy was touted as the human caterpillar. He had no arms or legs. He had one of his sons on set who would carry him around from place to place. Even though he is fully capable of getting himself wherever he needs to go, it’s just faster with his son.
He does this scene in the film where he lights his own cigarette.
Stephen: Yeah. They focused on that for a bit. And that was, he lit pretty damn fast too.
Rhys: Yeah. The thing is, they cut the best part of it. He rolled that cigarette himself. Wow. But that got cut out. He’d worked in side shows up until the end of his life.
He spoke three different languages. He lived in New Jersey, he died in 1934, leaving behind a wife and five children. And oddly enough, that’s the only name I can find under him is Prince Randy. And I like that. Daisy and Violet Hilton. They were Siamese twins. Conjoined twins is how we would refer to them today.
They worked not just in side shows, but they had a vaudeville career as musicians. They were joined at the hip, which some people have said is like a blessing because conjoined twins can be conjoined in far less convenient places than that. But yeah, this is just, they were British and when they were born, their mother sold them to someone in the carnival circuit.
And they were treated basically as slaves by their guardians until they could legally emancipate themselves. Rumor has it, if we go back to the f Scott Fitzgerald story, that these are the people that he saw in the cafeteria that offended him, so Wow. Yeah. They actually learned self-hypnosis from Harry Houdini.
Stephen: Oh, that’s cool. I know Harry did a lot with circus performers. At that
Rhys: time it was the only way they could actually feel like they were by themselves, so they could actually get alone time through this. Wow. That’s hypnosis by Houdini Johnny. He was super well liked. He was well suited for Hollywood handsome guy.
He was an artist in his spare time, his last name was really Eckhart, and he had a twin brother named Rob. Rob was normal and Johnny Eck has no legs, so he walks around on his hands. There was actually a magician who wanted to use them in a sawing and half trick where he would have the full size brother come up and get in the box, and then they’d swap it.
So you’d have Johnny in one box and then a little person like in a pants suit in the other side. Then he could separate them and the little guy would jump out and run off as just a pair of pants, and then Johnny would climb out and start chasing after his legs. That
Stephen: would’ve been it would’ve been funny, but knowing that the really the way they are Yeah.
Thinks that away,
Rhys: he and Browning got along really well. In fact, a lot of people don’t like talking about the movie but Johnny Act did and he said that originally Browning wanted to make a sequel to the film with him in it, based around his character. He did end up in four other films.
But like three of them were Tarzan films.
Stephen: And he played like the bird creature or
Rhys: something. Yeah. Yeah. Angelo Zito played Little Angelo. He was another little person. He was sought after in Hollywood. He was in 101 other films. He’s one of the founders of the Little People of America.
It’s an advocate group for people like that. He was in The Wizard of Oz Dementia, the Fugitive Gun Smoke, the Man from Uncle HR Puff and stuff. Starsky Hutch. Retta. The Rockford Files, the Animated Lord of the Rings. He did voiceover for that. The Incredible Hulk on tv. Something Wicked this way comes Mad Max Beyond the Thunder Dome, and even showing up in Star Trek, the next generation.
Stephen: Oh wow. Nice. Yeah. Long career.
Rhys: Yeah. Cuckoo the bird girl suffered from a bone condition and she was almost totally blind, which you can tell when you’re watching the movie cuz the glasses she’s wearing are very thick. Yeah. She had worked with Schitz in the sideshow circuit. Her real name was Minnie Woolsey.
She had what’s called Harper’s Syndrome or Vir Syndrome. Her name in the circus was Minnie Haha, which is a play on where she was born. Minnie Haha. Falls in Georgia. She died in 1960. She was hit by a car. Elizabeth Green was sometimes referred to as the stork woman. She’s what they call a gaffed freak because there was nothing physically o wrong with her.
She just looked odd. And so she accentuated her odd looks and acted like a circus freak, but she really wasn’t. She was just an odd looking person.
Stephen: There’s someone taking advantage of how you physically actually look instead of, yeah. Trying to fight it.
Rhys: Josephine Joseph was promoted as a hermaphrodite, but back then vast, probably 99.9% of them were not.
So they would do this half and half look. They would work out just the right side of their body and then wear makeup on the left side. She came to the US in 1910 when she was 12, and she married a guy named George Wa, who went on to be her agent. In 1917, Olga Roderick played Jane Barnell, the bearded lady.
This lady did not like Todd Browning, did not like freaks. She’s the most vocal person against this film. Of all the people who worked in it, she wished she’d never been in it. Some bearded ladies in the day were actually just female impersonators, but Jane was the real deal. She was very outspoken.
She was a socialist and very political. She was not a very happy person. I’ll watched a lot of biographies of this stuff and they’re like, there’s lots of tales about her ego being bruised on set. So it’s really not surprising to find that she really didn’t like the movie that much. The film was shot in 36 days, which is, pretty quick.
It debuted in San Diego. There we go. Confirmation. Not San Francisco, San Diego in January of 32. The preview audience, the story goes, a woman had a miscarriage due to watching it. Oh man. Which she used to sue mgm of course. There had been a growing rage in the country towards the Hollywood at the time, and Freaks was just like the perfect setup to draw all of the country’s ire.
Critics hated the movie. And then it was just too much of a lightning rod for MGM to hang onto it.
Got pulled from distribution when it showed in New York in the summer of 1932. So the total run on this film was five months. Which five? Maybe six.
Stephen: Yeah. Which, by today’s standards, that’s a long time. Yeah,
Rhys: for sure. There’s a guy he’s a bio, he’s a biographer, and I’m getting this from a documentary called Todd Browning’s Freaks, the Sideshow Cinema.
You can find it on YouTube if you wanna watch it. He says freaks is a disturbing film because it’s a very ugly film, not because of what’s in it, but what we bring to it, which I thought. That’s a really a really good point. It’s not so much that the movie itself is ugly, it’s just what we bring to the party when we show up,
Stephen: which I kinda get the feeling that’s what Browning was going for a little, maybe even a little ahead of his time for like culture was.
Rhys: We’ll run through the plot now.
Stephen: You have, so take a drink and go watch the movie and then come back. Yeah.
Rhys: There you go. There’s this introductory title card that has like sideshow performers written on it. It talks about how those who are different have been persecuted and considered evil, and sometimes they’re made into gesture gestures.
And we as a society, worship and chase after the beautiful. And they’re just trying to do their best to live their normal lives. Again, not sounding like a horror movie at all. Then they say quote, their lot is truly a heartbreaking one. Because of this, they built up their own code of ethics to protect them from normal, basically all for one and one for all.
Never again will such a film story. Never again. Will such a story be filmed? How prescient was that? Yeah. Yeah. And I’m gonna get in trouble with all of the circus people who watch our film, watch our podcast. Because we open on a barker trying to get people in to see the sideshow and Barker is not the right term.
And I can’t remember how I came across that information or where to go to find the correct term. So I apologize to all of you. Circus Barkers out there, he’s trying to get people in the sideshow and he tells the crowd, if you offend one, you offend them all. And there’s this big box tank and women in the crowd scream when they look into it.
And he goes on to say she was once a beautiful woman known as the peacock of the air. And then it fades out. So we never get to see who’s inside the box at the
Stephen: start of the movie. Yeah, it’s a good setup. Yeah. Good way to get you into the story bookend. It has bookends to the story. Yeah.
Rhys: We fade into Cleopatra sitting on a trapeze.
And it cuts to Hans and Frida watching her from below. They are engaged, Hans and Frida, and he’s saying she’s just the most beautiful, big woman he’s ever seen. Frida says she should be jealous. And he’s oh, nonsense. There’s no way she would have anything to do with me. Then there’s a cut to ha Hercules, he’s wrestling a bull, one of the few animals in this right.
And Frida’s getting ready to climb onto her performance pony, and Cleopatra comes through the curtains and she notices that Hans is checking her out. So she’s flattered by it. And then she purposely drops her cape, so he’ll pick it up for her free to seize this. And she’s upset by it. Cleopat turns for him to put it on her shoulders, and he’s are you joking?
Because I can’t reach your shoulders. And she’s like, why would you think that? So she kneels down so you can put the caper around her shoulders. And Frida is now shooting daggers out of her eyes. And Frida’s
Stephen: a really strong-willed character throughout the whole movie. Absolutely. Especially, and the way she handles it, instead of just going off that it’s very, very mature and strong person.
The way she handles things. And is the
Rhys: person probably most hurt with the exception of Hans? He ends up in bedridden, but she has nothing to do with the vengeance that happens. So
Stephen: jumping ahead.
Rhys: Yeah. Cleopatra goes over to Frida and tries complimenting her Tuto tutu, but Frida doesn’t want anything to do with her.
Says she rides off on her pony. Once she’s gone, Cleopatra goes back to Hans and says he must come and see her and they’ll have some wine together. Yeah. And this is what I mean about a lot of this movie is just everyday life. We cut to a couple of guys outside, they’re walking outdoors and one of them comes complaining to the other about the circus performers being on the property.
He’s they just let them run around during the day. And the other guy it turns out is the owner of the property. So we come across them playing out in the yard. It’s the micro encephalitic and there’s several different members there. And they’re with Madam Tetra who was like their watcher.
Stephen: And she’s, she very much gets offended by people who don’t treat them more normal, that are mean to ’em. And that, and for anyone to notice that’s how things were. The tra the circus would travel and find a farmer or something that they could basically rent the field and get all the town to come out to see their show so that, that’s what they were doing is traveling basically farm to farm or whatever.
Rhys: Yeah. She says she likes to take the children out into the sunshine. When she gets the chance, the landowner looks over them and tells them they’re welcome to remain much of the dismay of the other guy. But in the original cut, there’s this amazing little soliloquy sheath goes through. She’s they’re always in hot, stuffy tents, strange eyes, always staring at them, never allowed to forget what they are.
And then the landowner says, when I go to the circus again, Madam, I’ll remember. And then she’s I know Ur. You’ll remember seeing them playing like children among all the thousands who come to stare, to laugh, to shutter. You will be the one who understands. And they cut that peace out of it.
And I just thought that encapsulates, that’s that’s the browning talking to the audience. Yeah. Yeah. Now you should be more. Yeah.
Stephen: That’s the theme of the whole movie, basically. Yeah.
Rhys: You have a couple of guys out there when she gets back to the circus who are working, they’re the guys who set up the tent and haul stuff around.
They are rude. Very much they refer to the people with Madame Tetra as a bunch of manji freaks. Josephine Joseph comes through and they make fun of her as well, and I thought this was cool because it’s not something you’d see so often back then. The camera’s on these two guys and then here comes Madam Tini, and then we stay with these two guys.
Then here comes Josephine Joseph, and then the camera follows her afterwards. It’s like a nice little handoff from one thing to another without being a straight fade.
Rhys: We follow Josephine and she moves through into the back lot and she sees Hercules and Roscoe talking. Roscoe’s a clown, Hercules strong man as Hercules watches her pass.
Roscoe says, I think she likes you, but he don’t.
Stephen: Yeah. I’m sure at the time the audience chuckled a lot with that. Yes. You don’t see the half man, half woman thing too much. When we were growing up it was still known, but, thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve really seen that except maybe one performer online that does it
It really, like with transgender issues, it’s much more streamlined and if you want to transition and if you don’t have to. So back then you didn’t have those options. Back of the curtain with Hans and Cleopatra. She reveal she reveals to us that he sent her flowers.
Then she asks if he can loan her a thousand francs until her money from Paris arrives. That’s a lot of money in 1932. He of course, is sure. And she gives him a little peck on the cheek. He says he’ll deliver it to her wagon tomorrow. Then we see Hercules in a wagon with Venus and they’re fighting cause she does everything and he does nothing.
And then she storms out and he’s you’re not quitting me. I’m kicking you out. It’s just a big soap opera kind of scene. Yeah. Rozo, another clown watches her and she like lashes out at him and he just stands there silently after she leaves. He’s chasing after her. And he goes and chases after her, basically saying she shouldn’t be yelling at him.
And then she realizes that and he tells her not to go and fill her head with booze, cuz that never helped anybody. Little morality lesson thrown in there apparently. And she looks at him with a little different light. There’s a little smile on her face. And he tells her she’s a pretty good kid. No, she says that to him and he’s darn I am.
As he leaves Venus, his new wagon, he runs into Daisy and Violet. Turns out tomorrow’s an important day because Daisy and Violet are the conjoined twins. Daisy is getting married, she’s marrying Roscoe the other clown. And Roscoe accuses Daisy of flirting with Rozo, but Daisy denies that and they walk off.
See again, so much of this movie is just.
Stephen: Slice of life. Yeah. And I know I, conjoined twins, you don’t see that a whole lot anymore either, but it seems to be not frequent, but enough. When we were younger, I remember popping up in various movies as up, and it’s a same thing every time.
Oh, I’m in love with you, but she doesn’t like you. Yeah. Bugs Bunny, I think even did that playoff. Yeah. And
Rhys: you don’t see it as much anymore because reconstructive surgery is so much more successful. You, it’s very rare that you would actually have a conjoined twin where they would have to continue to grow up.
Hercules is dressed in street clothes, he’s walking around singing Cleopatra hears him and calls him over to her window, and there’s this kind of sultry flirting between them, which results to him just going in her wagon and they’re just getting it on. Going at each other. Each Josephine sees them and Hercules goes out and punches her in the face and Cleopatra laughs at it.
If you had any doubt about these two characters, it should pretty much be dissuade now. Yeah, very much yeah. Hans and Frida, we cut to them. She’s telling him not to smoke such a large cigar. He lashes out at her a little bit, but then he kinda glazes over it. Then he heads over to Cleopatra’s wagon.
Unbeknownst to him, Hercules is inside. She thanks him for the basket of fruit, which he sent, and Hercules is actually eating it. She claims she’s taking a bath and asks if he can come back later. And then she and Hercules have this big ha so funny. We’re making fun of this guy.
Then we cut to Venus. She’s. Sewing socks. Maybe she’s talking to Frida. And they’re just hanging out. And that’s one of the things I love about this, is that it is literally just like two ladies hanging out doing their laundry, right? Yeah. No differences between them. And they’re talking and Frida’s saying, Hans is in love with Cleopatra.
And it turns out neither one of them like her very much.
Stephen: And what you just said a minute ago is on a point of the show what we already said, the quote unquote normals are the outsiders. They’re the ones that are horrific throughout the whole thing. The quote unquote freaks treat each other like normal people.
Just as if it’s, if you couldn’t see the screen, you would probably be like, what’s wrong with this movie? They all sound like they get along type thing. Yeah. And I’m sure that’s a major point the movie was making.
Rhys: Yeah. And. I think especially with Browning, having worked with circus performers in his youth, he was like, this is what it’s like.
You’re just like hanging out. It’s just another person you’re working with. The Roustabouts and Hercules are talking about Cleopatra and it upsets Hans and then she comes over and says she has an ache in her shoulder. So Hans rub her back, and then the Roustabouts and Hercules make fun of him and he blows up at him.
But, it doesn’t really have much of an impact on them. Rozo and Venus are flirting back and forth. When Johnny shows up he is going to give fro a trick. Oh, he is gonna thank him for. Froze did a trick that he gave him and apparently went over really well, and he tells Venus that he had a dream about her.
And Shero tells Venus she, he had a dream about her and she’s pretty flattered by it. She keeps trying to get him to give her details and stuff keeps coming up. So the whole situation between the two of them is degenerating because stuff keeps interrupting her, flirting with him. But it’s saved with the announcement that the bearded lady has had her baby.
So they all run off to see it. The human skeleton apparently is the father. He brings cigars over to Hercules and the round roustabouts, and then everybody goes in and sees the baby. There’s some joke about it being a girl, so she’ll have a beard.
Stephen: But the joke is we’re all in on it.
It’s not a I’m making fun of you mean joke. It totally comes across as we’re just a bunch of friends hanging out, just ribbing each other a little bit.
Rhys: Yeah. Violet and Daisy are hanging out together and Roscoe comes in. It’s really awkward because Violet does not like Roscoe and Roscoe’s about to marry Daisy, and they’re literally attached at the hip.
Angelo and one of the armless girls are having a drink. She’s complaining about Cleopatra. She’s not really one of them. And her disdain for the freaks is obvious to her. Angelo says, let her try to be rude and see what happens. Which, she does. Then we have the Prince Randy in scene where he lights his own cigarettes.
I think he was talking to Rozo in that. Sceney came over, comes over and is hanging out with Rozo and having a lovely little conversation when zip and pip, that’s what the name of the two other micro athletic characters are. And Rozo promises fancy hats all around to all of them when they get to the next town.
Francis. Yeah, Francis and the bird girl are having dinner. One of the other guys comes over, talks about how well the show went. Cleopatra and Hans, he’s made her a cocktail with special alcohol he brought from France for her. Rozo is in the bathtub. When Venus comes by. It turns out the bathtub is for a new trick he’s working on.
And they like kiss for the first time and they both seem quite happy with the whole situation. So it’s, you have one relationship with Hans and Frida that’s falling apart and then another one that’s building up, they cross over. Mr. Rogers, who is a character, I, he only shows up in one scene.
He is proposing to Violet and she says yes. Then he kisses her and Daisy acts like she can feel it. I like that. Yeah. Then there’s this whole thing where Roscoe is there with Daisy and Mr. Rogers is there with Violet and they’re like, you have to come over and stop by sometime. It’s the big joke cuz obviously you’re all gonna be in the same place.
Let’s see. Frida goes to Hans’s wagon to ask where she stands with him and with Cleo, because Cleopatra, because how close they’ve become, he says he’s sorry. And she says, if you’re happy, I wouldn’t care. But Cleopatra can’t bring you happiness. And the whole circus knows it. And Hans is let them laugh.
And she’s people are talking about her, not you. And he’s I’m sorry. He should have gone to her first, which you know, he should have. And she says she just hopes he’ll be happy. And then leaves. Cleopatra has a new platinum and diamond necklace worth thousands. She and Hercules are talking about getting rid of him when Frida stops by getting rid of Hans.
And she’s accusing Cleopatra of being kind to him because she knows that he’s inherited a lot of money, which Cleopatra did not know until that moment. And now they do. They’re plotting to marry him and then kill him off to get their hands on the money. Then we have a title card, which is really weird.
It’s like the only one that gets inserted in there with all the deep
Stephen: nuts. Yeah. It’s still the holdover from the silent era day.
Rhys: Yeah. It’s, it says the wedding feast and the whole sideshow is there. Cleo is secretly poisoning a bottle of wine and she’s pouring some and handing it to Hans. Cuckoo is dancing on a table, the sword.
Swallower performs the fires. Eater performs. Everyone’s having a great time. Cleopatra’s getting drunk and obnoxious. Frida is there watching everything until she can’t take it, and then she just leaves Cleo, Cleopatra and Hercules just share this passionate kiss in front of everyone. And Hans is finally starting to see what’s going on.
Stephen: Speaking as a guy, there, there are times when we should listen to our women because there are times they’re quite right. Yeah. This is one of those times, Hans.
Rhys: Yeah. Angelo calls for a loving cup and he pours a bunch of alcohol into one big cup and they walk around and they’re doing the ceremony to make Cleopatra officially one of them.
And everyone at the table starts chanting, we accept you. One of us Google Gobble. Yeah. And like this whole thing is chanting and they’re walking around all taking a sip from the loving cup. Cleopatra realizes what sh they’re saying. She’s drunk. She’s offended that the thought she might even be considered one of them.
So she shrieks calling them freaks and dumps the loving cup all over Angelo. She calls for Hercules to chase them all away. They all scatter. Then she just starts to treat Hans as a child. She puts him on his shoulders and parades around the ring
Stephen: And, people drinking and being stupid.
That hasn’t changed in a hundred years. That’s true.
Rhys: You might have the best plan ever and then you drink and it all goes out the window. Yeah. I cuts.
Stephen: And we and also, you know what, now that I just thought of that it also shows that the circus people weren’t the ones getting drunk and acting stupid, and they are still people and figured this out.
It wasn’t like they could just pull the wool over ’em and fool ’em that, and I think that’s a point to make for the movie also. Because and I think Hans even said, I’m still a man with the same feelings and emotions. Yeah. Yeah, he does.
Rhys: It cuts to Hans lying in bed and Hercules is apologizing, saying he saying she was drunk.
There’s nothing between them. And Hans says he doesn’t blame anyone but himself. He knew that she could only laugh at him, and she’s there trying to do some damage control. He’s not really following for it. This
Stephen: would be a time not to listen to the woman. Yes.
Rhys: Angelo is actually seeing all of this from the window.
Oh, and so does Randy and he also sees it. The doctor shows up and says that Hans has been poisoned. Everyone’s concerned. It’s domain poisoning. Interestingly enough Frida and Venus are talking about how horrible Cleopatra is, and Hercules is just kinda walking around looking paranoid, which he should be.
A lot of people are keeping an eye on him. Venus calls Hercules out on, being part of this and he’s about to hit her, but then he notes that all the other sides show folk are watching, and he thinks better of it wise, man. Yes. Venus says she’s thinking of going to the police later that night.
Hercules comes out of his wagon and finds that even Roscoe won’t talk to him. Hans is in bed apologizing to Cleopatra for what he said. She goes off to fix his medicine. I e poison it. Angelo sees her do that and then she feeds it to him and leaves, and when she leaves, he spits it out. She heads out to do her act and he asks her to leave the door open.
Then she notices that all the sideshow performers are there and they’re all watching her. She goes by Angelo, slips in with Hans, and it turns out that Hans has a plan, and tonight it’s all going to happen, whatever that plan is. And this is like literally the last 10 minutes. This is the only thing you call horror about this movie, right?
Stephen: Yeah. There’s a, for our sensibilities.
Rhys: Yes. There’s a storm. Johnny is moving about under the wagons. He joins up with the rest of the wa with the rest of the group. Then they’re riding in the wagons. Hercules slips out of his wagon. Frida tells Rozo about Hercules threats towards Venus. He puts on his hat and heads out into the rain.
All of the male little people are in with Hans and Cleo. Oh, with Hans and Cleopatra tells them they should go, but he protests. Hans is I like having them here. She goes back to mix up his medicine and when she turns around, he’s sitting up and he tells her to give him the little black bottle. She looks over at Jerry Austin.
Who is a little person, he’s listed in the credits as the knife throwing dwarf. He doesn’t even get a name. Wow. But he pops open a switchblade, and she knows her goose is cooked. Johnny pulls out a Luger and Hans repeats bottle
Stephen: elsewhere. Hercules is breaking. Yeah. They’re pretty scary right here, and again, it’s breaking that stereotype.
You may think down upon these people, but don’t, you really shouldn’t.
Rhys: Yeah. Hercules is breaking in Venus’s door, but fro attacks them. And in the meantime, Hans’s wagon turns into a ditch, falls on its side, and Cleopatra runs into the night. Rozo and Hercules are fighting. Hercules manages to knock Rozo down into the mud.
He’s choking him and then knife throwing dwarf again just because he was so poorly listed. His name is Jerry Austin. Jerry Austin pulls out a dagger and puts it right into Hercules side, like throws it into his side. Then Rozo decks him and runs. And now Hercules finds that there are sideshow performers coming from all different directions, blades in hand if they have hands.
If they don’t, prince Randy’s carrying it in his teeth. Yeah. He pulls himself out from under the wagon, but he is completely surrounded. In the meantime, Cleopatra’s running through the woods screaming. And then we’re back to the opening of the movie at the sideshow. And the sideshow reveals Cleopatra to be a half human duck woman down in the bottom of the pit.
Stephen: Yeah, not able to talk or anything, and that’s pretty horrific, but it’s like, what did they really do? Now it starts bringing in the question of the occult rituals or the gypsy magic and whatever. I believe
Rhys: the comic book version that came out in the eighties actually goes into detail about what they did to make her into a duck woman.
Stephen: Wow. I dunno if I even wanna know that.
Rhys: Part of the thing that got cut was Hercules shows up at the end as well, but he is a casti. He is a castrated, high voiced singer now. That’s hilarious. They cut that and then they tagged on this ending where Hans is in this mansion, and Venus and Rozo come by with Frida and he’s hiding because of his guilt.
But Frida tells him not to cry because she loves him and the credits rule that
Stephen: supposedly he got his
Rhys: money. Yeah, and that whole tag ending was added after the fact, after they cut so much other stuff out. And so that really is the story of Freaks, where you had the world’s greatest collection of sideshow performers at MGM Studios made into a film.
And I think one of the last things, especially in this day and age that I’d like to point to is in that same documentary I mentioned earlier, Todd Brownings Freaks, the Sideshow Cinema. There was a little person named Mark Pelli and he had this great quote, he said, I think you have to be very careful to limit exploitation to the individual when the individual feels like they’re being used and feels uncomfortable about what they’re doing.
Then it’s exploitative. I think society has to be very careful about deciding for others what is harmful for the individual.
Stephen: So he said that in 2022, right?
Rhys: I don’t know. It was like five years old or something like that. But yeah,
Stephen: That’s so relevant to today. It
Rhys: is, yeah. And his whole point is you can sit there and
this is gonna be, this is gonna be wrong because it’s, but if you want to shut down the elephants at Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus, that’s all they do is that performance. And so after that, you’re gonna have to put them somewhere and care for them because they don’t really have anything else.
You can’t release them back in the wild. And I’m not saying that. Elephants should be enslaved in a circus. But the same thing happens for people like sideshow performers. If you’re gonna marginalize them and say that this is exploitative to them and they don’t feel that it is, then if you shut it down, all you’ve done is take away their only source of income.
Stephen: Yes. And that’s, the problem then problem now. It’s not a black and white question that has a black and white answer. There’s a lot of gray in that people think they’re doing something good when it may not necessarily be good. And I, and it took how long from this movie to now to where somebody without arms isn’t a freak.
Somebody that a conjoined twin isn’t a freak. People with hair lips would’ve been freaks and Oh my God, oh yeah. Now surgery. But it’s taken that a hundred years to change all of society and culture. And it’s not even all of, when I say all
Rhys: again Yeah, you’re
Stephen: always ignorant people.
Exactly. So the change doesn’t happen just by shutting down a facility or stopping one person. It, there, there’s got, there’s. There’s gray stuff that needs taken care of and answered on both sides to make the change. And unfortunately, regardless of our society change is not fast. No. It can be very slow.
And that goes all the way back to Roman times and everything else. Unless you have an invader come in and kill everything and destroy your capital city. Yeah. Enforce change. Yes. It’s now changed and we are done. Yeah. Or hell yeah.
Rhys: This is this also, it was, it falls under my category of historical.
Historical horror films. This is definitely one that if you are into the history of horror and where it came from and where it’s going, this is one to watch Again. I don’t find it to be a horror movie really, personally, but that’s how it was built. That’s how it was built.
Stephen: And I mentioned The Greatest Showman.
Really it’s very similar in plot story in that, in what it shows for how they were treated and just there’s a lot less music in
Rhys: now and then maybe, but. No one’s singing anything.
Stephen: No. It was a great choice and I love the historical aspects of it. Those are always some of my favorites. Again, what’s coming up next? Oh,
Rhys: sorry. I just wanted to thank my buddy Paul, who introduced me to this film way back when we were working in Canton together.
He brought it to me on a little VHS tape saying, you gotta check this thing out. So Thanks, Paul. Wow.
Stephen: Wow. All right. So what’s coming up next, Reese? Next
Rhys: we are doing House of the Devil, and the job here is a babysitter.
Stephen: That’s pretty horrific, right? There it is. All right, man. So next time, we’ve got a good one.
All righty. Talk to later.