This film may have a long and sometimes uncomfortable set-up, but I think the ending more than makes up for it, and allows it the status of a deserving classic that is has.
Focusing on a failed love between a dwarf and an acrobat, Freaks takes it’s sweet time setting the finale up, which might bother some fans of the genre. Watching a black-and-white love story featuring carnival sideshow attractions might not be everyone’s idea of a fun time.
Still, the fact the film used real performers in their roles really adds a little something special to Freaks. Obviously, some of the people here just look naturally unsettling (through no fault of their own, to be sure), and I can imagine that audiences in the 1930’s could easily be turned away by this (and I’ve also heard that the ‘deformed’ cast members ate separately from the ‘normal’ cast members during the filming of this, which is pretty damn awful).
The ‘freaks,’ though, aren’t the enemies here, despite what some might at first believe. Their actions toward the end of the film aren’t necessarily great, but really, who could blame them? Their revenge here is fantastic, and leads to possibly one of the most shocking scenes in a 1930’s horror film.
A few names warrant a mention here. Wallace Ford (a somewhat well-known name who was in other, mostly low-budget, horror films from the period) did pretty well playing the clown, and seemed to possess the most feeling. Angelo Rossitto was also fantastic, especially during the intimidation sequence. Also, playing the main dwarf, Harry Earles put a lot of emotion into this one, and he certainly stood out. Others very much worth mentioning are Johnny Eck (the guy with no legs, who walked on his hands), Henry Victor (Hercules), and Leila Hyams (Venus, also of Island of Lost Souls).
Freaks isn’t a long movie, being just over an hour long, and I was never bored despite the bulk of the movie being a romantic drama. Truth be told, though I’ve seen this once or twice before, it’s never really been a favorite, but seeing it again did hit the right spot, and I can certainly imagine this shocking the audiences of the time.