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A superb and unique film from that master of the morbid, masochistic and macabre, Tod Browning. Set in a travelling circus - a milieu Browning knew and loved from his own experience - it shows the revenge taken by a group of circus freaks on a beautiful trapeze artist and her strongman lover after they have tried to kill a midget (the marvellous Harry Earles, one of the stars of Browning's The Unholy Three) for his fortune. The basic themes of the film are the strength in solidarity of the individually weak freaks, and the inner beauty of the physically malformed as compared to the greed and deceit of the physically resplendent. Although using real freaks, Browning's treatment is never voyeuristic or condescending, but sympathetic in such a way that after a few minutes we almost cease to perceive them as in any way abnormal. There is a strong, black humour that, remarkably, lacks cruelty, and a real sense of terror in the awful revenge the wronged freaks exact. MGM never knew what hit them with this film; they virtually disowned it, and it remained unseen in Britain until the '60s. It has now achieved deserved recognition as a masterpiece.

Release details

Rated: 12A
Duration: 64 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Tod Browning
Screenwriter: Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Al Boasberg
Cast: Harry Earles
Olga Baclanova
Wallace Ford
Leila Hyams
Henry Victor
Daisy Earles
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