One of the darkest and most controversial American movies of the 1930s, Tod Browning’s Freaks is part melodrama, part horror film, and part documentary—and it’s the latter part that got Browning in trouble. Olga Baclanova plays a gold-digging trapeze artist who marries a wealthy circus midget, but cheats on him with the strongman, raising the vengeful ire of her husband’s family and friends. Browning’s decision to use actual sideshow performers as his titular “freaks” raised concerns about exploitation when the movie came out, and helped keep it out if circulation for decades. But the era of the midnight movie helped revive Freaks, and boosted its reputation (even inspiring the Ramones’ anthem “Pinhead”). Today it stands as an unusually disturbing, hard-hitting dispatch from the heart of what critic Greil Marcus once called “the old, weird America.” Freaks airs on Turner Classic Movies at 3:45 a.m. Eastern, as Friday gives way to Saturday.
September 12, 2014 newsreel