Friday, October 31, 2008

Tod Browning

Tod Browning on the set of Freaks

I forgot to mention Tod Browning yesterday as one of the great horror directors, and a couple of his movies aired this morning. First, there was Freaks, the movie looking at the world of circus sideshow members, and how they're thinking, feeling human beings just like the rest of us.

Freaks was followed by The Devil-Doll, in which Lionel Barrymore plays a wrongly-convicted prisoner who esacapes and, having learned from a mad doctor the secret of shrinking people and taking away their free will, devises a plan to shrink people, make them his slaves, and use them to get back at the people who framed him! The movie also stars Maureen O'Sullivan

Browning isn't known so well today, for a couple of reasons. First, he did a lot of his work during the silent era. Movies like The Unkown (with a young Joan Crawford) show up on TCM's "Silent Sunday Nights" from time to time, but silent movies don't get the attention nowadays that talkies do. The bigger reason, though, is that once Browning started making talking pictures, he made some films that were highly controversial, including both Freaks and The Devil-Doll. The humanization of the various sideshow characters in Freaks, combined with the fact that they're portrayed as having the same traits as regular people, must have been shocking for audiences even in the pre-code era. I can't imagine Browning having gotten away with some of this stuff after they started enforcing the Production Code, and that may be part of the reason Freaks was officially out of circulation for years. As for The Devil-Doll, Tod Browning doesn't receive on-screen credit for having directed this.

Happily, both movies are available on DVD for you to watch any time you wish.

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