Blog #2 – “The Lost Finale” or “The Last Cut is the Deepest”
I’ve seen “Freaks” well over a hundred times. Crazy, I know. But every time I’ve seen it with an audience the ending has never failed to elicit chuckles, outright laughter and, yes, even wise quacks. ;)
“Freaks” and Tod Browning have taken a lot of heat for that ending. I mean, c’mon. Did Browning really think audiences would buy into Madame Tetrallini’s sideshow headliners surgically transforming Cleopatra into a half-woman half-duck?
There are two theories regarding the plot of “Freaks” and thus its ending:
Theory #1. “Freaks” is merely the hyperbolic spiel of the opening scene’s carnival barker literally played-out word-for-word before our eyes.
“Friends… she was once a beautiful woman. A royal prince shot himself for love of her. She was known as the peacock of the air….”
Because this “talker” is fabricating a story, as real ballyhoo talkers did, to make make his “human oddity” sound as exotic as possible, we go along with his story no matter how improbable.
Theory #2. Browning lost his marbles.
Well, I thought the latter – until I read the shooting script and cutting continuity scripts for the 90-minute cut of “Freaks” and realized that Theories 1 and 2 are both wrong.
The scripts clearly explain that Madame Tetrallini provided work for her “children,” and even Cleo, in her swanky new Freak and Music Hall. Only Cleo’s not working the Music Hall, no, no, no. The legless, half-blind human mess quacks from the Freak Show pit, stuffed into a duck suit, now a “freak” herself.
So? What happened? Why did logic end up on the cutting room floor?
When MGM chopped-up (or down) “Freaks” after the initial sneak preview they lopped out Madame T’s explanation, leaving us with a climax worthy of the chuckles and wise quacks it receives.
Browning’s ending is eerie, haunting, and exactly the kind of twisted wrap-up we’d expect from him. It makes a lot more sense and would have given audiences nothing to laugh at.
But had the intended finale made it to the screen, would “Freaks” have taken less of a bite out of Browning’s reputation as a compelling storyteller? Sadly, we’ll never know.
– Michael Kriegsman
P.S. We haven’t even addressed Hercules’ comeuppance in the “lost” finale. We’ll save that macabre moment for another blog post!
Blog #1 – Introduction
I’ve been fascinated by Tod Browning’s controversial classic about life in a traveling sideshow since I was a little kid. No, really. Look…
It’s wasn’t the “horror” angle that captivated me. It was the humanity Browning infused into his film. Even as a kid I saw innocence in the eyes of sideshow casts’ faces. They weren’t monsters. They were people. People that didn’t choose the way they came into the world.
If Browning set out to make a “different” kind of horror show, he succeeded by suggesting that the true monsters aren’t always the usual suspects. I mean, c’mon. After seeing “Freaks” who would you trust to watch your back? Cleopatra? Hercules?
If you picked the likes of Schlitze and Randian, welcome home. You’re One of Us!
With so much information about “Freaks” scattered across the web (some of it true, much of it not), I thought it might be cool for like-minded fans to have a cyber hangout to set the records straight. Here, fans in-the-know can answer questions from those who want to know more about this courageous motion picture.
Feel free to share your own impressions and opinions of the film, too. Send us your stories, your art, your music, anything and we’ll post it for the community to see.
Best yet, this blog will be a place for me to share some of my incredible “Freaks” discoveries with you – including ultra-rare production stills (pics I know you haven’t seen!); one-of-a-kind candid Kodachromes of perhaps the most famous member of the sideshow cast; and extraordinary original archival documents (not copies, folks!), including the final version of the picture’s shooting script; 11th-hour reshoot scripts; several cutting continuity scripts – including one for the uncut 90-minute version of the film which finally reveals the more humane picture Browning wanted us to see; plus lots, lots more.
Let me end this first blog post by saying, “Welcome!” and “Thank you for becoming One of Us!”
– Michael Kriegsman