Tod Browning's Sideshow Shockers Blu-ray
Criterion | 1925-1932 | 3 Movies | 204 min | Not rated | Oct 17, 2023
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Original aspect ratio: 1.2:1, 1.37:1
English: LPCM Mono
Two-disc set (2 BD)
Tod Browning's Sideshow Shockers (1925-1932)
The most transgressive film produced by a major American studio in the 1930s, Tod Browning's crowning achievement has haunted the margins of cinema for nearly one hundred years. An unforgettable cast of real-life sideshow performers portray the entertainers in a traveling circus who, shunned by mainstream society, live according to their own code—one of radical acceptance for the fellow oppressed and, as the show's beautiful but cruel trapeze artist learns, of terrifying retribution for those who cross them. Received with revulsion by viewers upon its initial release, Freaks effectively ended Browning's career but can now be seen for what it is: an audacious cry for understanding and a singular experience of nightmarish, almost avant-garde power.
The most celebrated and exquisitely perverse of the many collaborations between Tod Browning and his legendary leading man Lon Chaney, The Unknown features a wrenchingly physical performance from "the Man of a Thousand Faces" as the armless Spanish knife thrower Alonzo (he flings daggers with his feet) whose dastardly infatuation with his beautiful assistant (Joan Crawford)—a woman, it just so happens, who cannot bear to be touched by the hands of any man—drives him to unspeakable extremes. Sadomasochistic obsession, deception, murder, disfigurement, and a spectacular Grand Guignol climax—Browning wrings every last frisson from the lurid premise.
A fantastically atmospheric but rarely seen missing link in the development of Tod Browning's artistry, set amid his favored milieu of shadowy sideshows and clever criminals, The Mystic provides a striking showcase for silent-era diva Aileen Pringle, who sports a series of memorably outré looks (courtesy of art-deco designer Erté) as Zara, a phony psychic in a Hungarian carnival who, under the guidance of a Svengali-like con man (Conway Tearle), crashes—and proceeds to swindle—American high society. Browning's fascination with the weird is on full display in the eerie séance sequences, while his subversive moral ambiguity extends surprising sympathy to even the most seemingly irredeemable of antiheroes.
Director: Tod Browning
Writers: Clarence Aaron 'Tod' Robbins, Tod Browning, Waldemar Young, Al Boasberg, Willis Goldbeck, Joseph Farnham
Starring: Lon Chaney, Wallace Ford, Norman Kerry, Leila Hyams, Joan Crawford, Olga Baclanova