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By Christopher Skokna | Posted 5/7/2008

Tod Browning's 1932 pre-Code movie may be marred by an overripe plot, amateur performances, and an overall feeling of exploitation, but it transcends those shortcomings and comes out a masterpiece. That plot hardly matters, but for those who care, the normal-sized circus performer Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) schemes to pilfer the fortune of little person Hans (Harry Earles) by taking advantage of his lust for her. She and her strongman beau, Hercules (Henry Victor), are less than coy about their disdain for Hans and his fellow sideshowers at their wedding dinner, and soon Freak Justice is had. What makes Freaks so spectacular is its audacity--Browning doesn't shy away from showing the deformed entertainers in all their, well, freakiness--and, at the same time, its lovingness. There are few scenes in cinema as beautiful as the practically antediluvian pinhead picnic early on in the movie, and few as filled with dread as the legless freaks--among them Baltimore's own "half-man," Johnny Eck--crawl through muck to mete out vengeance.

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