Cinema Purgatorio CP14

Cinema Purgatorio #14 regular cover, art by Kevin O’Neill

Annotations for “Freaks of the Lens” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #14

Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill

>Go to overall Cinema Purgatorio annotations index
>
Go to Moore-O’Neill Cinema Purgatorio stories annotations index

Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.

General: The movie-within-a-comic portrays the life of director Tod Browning. Browning’s life is told through a series of sideshow vignettes, narrated by actor Harry Earles.

It should be noted that Browning had a very prolific career, and that Moore selectively mentions those films which fit into the narrative he constructs.

Todd Browning – photo via Gritos y susurros

Cover

  • The cover depicts Tod Browning arguably most well known for directing Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932). Left to right are: (Thanks to commenter Charles)
    – Actor Bela Lugosi playing Dracula
    – Director Tod Browning
    – Actor Harry Earles
    – an armadillo, which references how armadillos and opossums appear in Browning’s Dracula. They wander through Dracula’s castle making the scenes somewhat surreal.
  • “Tod” was a stage name Browning adopted after running away to join the circus. The word “tod” means “death” in German, “fox” or “trickster” in Old English.

Page 1

panel 1

  • “Iceman” is an anagram of “cinema.” British crossword puzzles often feature anagrammatic clues. Here, the phrase “found in” is meant to signal such a clue.
  • “Group at Rio” is an anagram (signaled by “becomes confused”) for “purgatorio.” This also suggest the mythological river Styx which one crosses to get to the underworld.
  • The narrator is solving crosswords using a pen, typically not recommended and perhaps symbolizing the permanence of one’s actions.
  • Panel detail from Roscoe Moscow: Who Killed Rock’n’Roll? Episode 15: “A Pulp Adventure!” written and drawn by Alan Moore (Sounds July 7, 1979) [image via Pádraig Ó Méalóid]
    Moore is said to enjoy crosswords, and has included similar solvable crossword puzzle clues in earlier works, including a Roscoe Moscow strip and Top Ten: The Forty-Niners Chapter 2 P9.

panel 2

  • As stated, the cover depicts character actor Rondo Hatton, whose acromegaly-deformed features would make him fit in with the Freaks characters depicted later in the story.
  • The sofa is the one where Bugsy Siegel was shot – see notes for page 8, below.

panel 3

  • The protagonist seems to be looking at her reflection in the glass over a lobby card depicting a human skull. Of course, this also is a reflection of how she herself is in a state of death. (Moore has employed somewhat similar multi-layer reflection images before – examples include Lost Girls Ch9 P2,p3 and Crossed+100 #2, P1,p6.
  • The “X” in the corner is a film rating. Unlike in the US (where X-rated movies are essentially banned from release), the British ratings board frequently rated films as “X” from 1951-1982. In the UK, this simply indicated that the film was restricted to adult viewers, and didn’t carry the specifically sexual connotation it had in the US. (Thanks to commenter Tessa Braithwaite for some clarification on this.)

panel 4

  • Was Geraldine a “little person […] torn in half” is relevant to Freaks; “little person” is the preferred nomenclature for many dwarfs and midgets. Torn in half anticipates the next panel, and perhaps a person torn in half is broadly references sideshows – from magic acts to the people in Freaks. It’s also a little chilling that the userhette who does not typically smile, does so when tearing something (someone?) in half.

panel 5

  • Blowflies” lay their eggs in meat, suggesting that some one has died (as depicted in earlier issues, including CP#10 P8).
  • Necro Golden Mane was previously seen in CP#12 P1,p5 where, as here, it stands in for Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

    Freaks title card
    Freaks title card
  • The hand tearing away the title credit is as seen in the 1932 film Freaks directed by Tod Browning.

Page 2

panel 1

  • As in the opening of Freaks, the torn title screen (P1,p5) is seen in the hand of a carnival barker announcing a freak show (though the comic here portrays more of a wax museum).
    For what it’s worth, Browning’s The Unholy Three (1925) also opens on a somewhat similar circus sideshow scene.
    Further, Moore portrayed a somewhat similar carnival barker in his song ‘Hair of the Snake That Bit Me’ (read or listen).

    Harry Earles in Freaks
    Harry Earles in Freaks
  • The carnival barker is, as he states, the actor Harry Earles, a baby-faced midget who appeared in Freaks.
  • “Hey you longlegs… I’m talkin’ to you” is Earles breaking the fourth wall, addressing an apparently full-sized person viewer (and reader.)
  • “Twisted Tod” is director Tod Browning, though that nickname was apparently created by Moore and O’Neill.
  • “It ain’t my real name” references that Earles’ birthname was Kurt Fritz Schneider – mentioned P4,p5 below.
  • The curtain Earles is pulling aside appears to have Edvard Munch’s
    The Scream
    Edvard Munch’s The Scream

    The Scream” painted on it. The Scream image cleverly appears as the head of a “Fat Lady” standing behind.

  • The question mark, probably unintentionally, is reminiscent of prominent question mark motifs throughout Moore and O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

panel 2

  • Tod Browning was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1880.
Pete Browning trading card
Pete Browning trading card
  • Pete Browning is as described here, although (probably due to space constraints) Moore does not mention that his alcoholism was due to chronic pain from mastoiditis, making him a “freak” in yet another sense.
  • The small figure may be meant to represent Tod Browning as a child, and the juxtaposition with the baseball bat to suggest physical abuse. It is known that Tod Browning was completely estranged from his family as an adult.

panel 3

  • The Satellites of Mercury” were, as stated, a travelling New Orleans carnival attraction. They hosted a popular festival in Louisville from 1888-1892. (Basic internet research does not appear to connect Browning with The Satellites.)
O’Neill’s panel art appears to be partially based on this historic photo of 1890 Louisville tornado damage. Photo via GenDisasters via Google

panel 4

panel 5

  • Various sources refer to Browning’s coffin act as “The Living Corpse” or “The Living Hypnotic Corpse”; Moore’s emphasis of “Hypnotic Corpse” here may be meant to evoke The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (see note to P7,p2).

Page 3

panel 1

Leon Hermann
Leon Herrmann
  • Leon Herrmann was the nephew of Alexander Hermann , both popular stage illusionists appearing under the name “Herrmann the Great”.

panel 2

  • Very little information is available regarding Mary Stevens. She and Browning were married from 1906-1910.

panel 3

  • Mutt & Jeff were originally newspaper comic strip characters, but obtained sufficient popularity to branch out into other media.
  • David Wark (D. W.) Griffith was a highly influential early film director, best known for his brilliant-but-racist epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). According to Brittanica.com, Browning “had a small role in Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) while also functioning as an assistant director on it.”
  • The background appears to be a wax museum diorama. (The fire bucket being used as an ashtray supports this, as fire was an extreme hazard for a wax exhibit.)

panel 4

  • Alice Browning (known under several other names as an actress) was married to Tod Browning from 1911 until her death in 1944.

panels 4-5

  • Actor Elmer Booth is credited as playing the first film gangster. As described, Booth was killed in a 1915 car crash, with Browning driving. Browning was badly injured, losing his teeth. According to Brittanica.com, actor George A. Siegmann was also injured in this crash.

 

Irving Thalberg circa 1930
Irving Thalberg circa 1930

Page 4

panel 1

  • In 1918, Browning met director Irving Thalberg, who was, as described, afflicted by childhood illness.

panel 2

Lon Chaney as Quasimodo
Lon Chaney as Quasimodo
  • Lon Chaney appears here as Quasimodo, from the 1923 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Though not a Tod Browning film, it is perhaps Chaney’s most famous role.
  • “Don’t step on it–it might be Lon Chaney!” was a catchphrase in the 1920s. According to an article in the Guardian, it originated when “director Marshall Neilan gave this warning to a studio workman whose foot was poised over a spider: “Don’t step on it: it may be Lon Chaney.””

panel 3

Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong

panel 4

  • Anna May Wong later became the first Chinese-American movie star.

panel 5

  • The Unholy Three (1925) can be viewed at DailyMotion.
  • The Unholy Three‘s lead characters described are shown (left to right): Victor McLaglen, Chaney (in partial drag as Mrs. O’Grady), unnamed infant actress, Earles, and Browning.
  • The deleted scene referenced is detailed at the TCM website:

    When Hercules and Tweedledee rob the Arlington mansion on Christmas Eve, they awaken a three-year-old child, who tiptoes out to catch Santa in the act. “Oh Santa Claus,” she exclaims, “You brought me a little bruvver!” She throws her arms around Tweedledee and begins kissing him. Mr. Arlington comes downstairs just in time to see his child being strangled by the diminutive burglar. Hercules tears a curtain from the doorway, wraps it around Arlington’s head and suffocates him.

  • The title displayed here would appear to be Kevin O’Neill’s, not based on the film or posters.
  • The Unholy Three
    The Unholy Three – left to right are: Lon Chaney, Harry Earles, and Victor McLaglen
  • The Mystic (1925) featured gowns by the already famous Erté.
  • The Road to Mandalay (1926) is largely lost, though an abridged French version exists. The synopsis from AllMovie.com sheds some light on the “disturbingly incestuous” comment:

    The Road to Mandalay is a typically bizarre collaboration between star Lon Chaney Sr. and director Tod BrowningChaney plays Singapore Joe, the one-eyed proprietor of a Mandalay bordello. Joe’s convent-bred daughter Rosemary (Lois Moran) is totally ignorant of her father’s existence and of course knows nothing of the manner in which her education was financed. When the girl falls in love with Admiral Edward Harrington (Owen Moore), Joe recognizes the admiral as one of his old partners in crime and vows to save Rosemary from ruining her life. But Harrington has totally reformed, and it is he who ultimately rids the world of Singapore Joe. Even in 1926, critics recognized the Oedipal subtext in Road to Mandalay.

  • The Show (1927) is set at a Budapest sideshow. Central to the plot is a Salome playlet, featuring a cleverly-faked beheading.
Joan Crawford in The Unknown
Joan Crawford in The Unknown

Page 5

panel 1

  • The Unknown (1927) features Lon Chaney as a knife thrower in love with a woman who has a morbid fear of being embraced, so has his own arms surgically removed.

panel 2

Lon Chaney in London After Midnight
Lon Chaney in London After Midnight
  • London After Midnight (1927) is now lost. Synopses do not suggest that it was “a blatant Dracula swipe”, but if Mark of the Vampire is a close remake of it, then many details were clearly Dracula-inspired.

panel 3

  • Dracula (1931) is, technically, “the first screen Dracula”. It did, however, take some inspiration from the Dracula-plagiarizing Nosferatu (1922).
  • The Thirteenth Chair (1929), like Browning’s earlier The Mystic, featured a fake medium in the plot.
  • As stated, the actor Bela Lugosi played the titular vampire Dracula. For what it’s worth, Lugosi has cameos in CP#7 and CP#13.
  • Armadillos in Dracula
    Armadillos in Dracula
  • While some armadillos did appear in Dracula, to call (and depict them as) “rampaging” is a comic exaggeration.
  • Multiple sources claim that Browning convinced MGM to buy the rights to “Spurs” in the 1920s, but without giving a solid date. Browning apparently began work on an adaptation as early as 1927.

panels 4-5

Freaks poster
Freaks poster
  • A contemporary poster for Freaks is in the background.

panel 5

  • Prince Randian was miscredited in Freaks as “Rardion”.
  • Siblings playing sweethearts echoes the incest theme from P4,p5.

Page 6

panel 1

  • Pictured at center is Henry Victor as Hercules the strongman. This is not the same character as the Hercules from The Unholy Three, although the same actor (Victor McLaglen) was originally considered for the role. This is yet another angle of the movie poster seen on the previous page.

panel 2

  • For Johnny Eck being sawed in half, Kevin O’Neill seems to have failed to find photo reference. But it exists!
"Duck Woman"
“Duck Woman”

panel 4

  • The “duck woman” was the centerpiece of the revised ending to Freaks.
  • Much more than just the ending of Freaks was cut or changed.

panel 5

Lugosi and Borland in Mark of the Vampire
Lugosi and Borland in Mark of the Vampire
  • Mark of the Vampire (1935) is said to be a remake of London After Midnight. It appears to be a fairly cliche vampire plot for the first two acts, but then turns out to have a not-very-plausible explanation for all the apparently supernatural goings-on.
  • The reference to “further flops” is odd, since Browning only made one film in between Freaks and Mark of the VampireFast Workers (1933).
  • The Devil-Doll (1936) was Browning’s penultimate film. His final feature was the non-horror Miracles for Sale (1939).
  • While the effects in MotV aren’t quite bad enough to see the strings (as drawn here), the flying bats are sadly unconvincing. The “haunted castle” does not contain armadillos in this film, but does contain bats, roaches, tarantulas, crabs, and opossum.

Page 7

Browning's grave
Browning’s gravestone

panels 1-2

  • Visible in the background is the gravestone of Tod Browning, his wife Alice, and several other members of Alice’s family.
  • Panels 1-2 form a comics polyptych.
Mark of the Vampire poster – 1935

panel 2

  • “Caligari’s expressionism” refers to the German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).
  • Coming through the curtain are Freaks‘ Minnie Woolsey (Koo-koo) and Daisy Earles (Frieda).
  • On the right of panel 2 is the movie poster for MotV.

panel 3

  • At left is Freaks‘ Peter Robinson (Human Skeleton).

panel 4

  • In the background is Freaks‘ Olga Roderick (Bearded Lady).
Delmo Fritz swallowing
Delmo Fritz

panel 5

  • From left to right:
Josephine Joseph
Josephine Joseph

– Delmo Fritz (Sword Swallower)

– Josephine-Joseph (Half Woman-Half Man)

Prince Randian lights a cigarette
Prince Randian lights a cigarette

– Prince Randian (The Living Torso, pictured as in the scene where he lights his own cigarette)

– Angelo Rossitto (Angeleno, bearing the loving cup which features prominently in the wedding feast scene)

Angeleno and the loving cup
Angeleno and the loving cup

– Minnie Woolsey (Koo-koo, wearing her costume from the wedding feast)

Koo-koo's wedding dance
Koo-koo’s wedding dance

– Tod Browning

– Harry Earles (Hans)

Frances O'Connor (eating with her foot)
Frances O’Connor (eating with her foot)

– Frances O’Connor (Armless Girl)

Daisy and Violet Hilton
Daisy and Violet Hilton

– Daisy and Violet Hilton (Siamese Twins)

Daisy Earles (Frieda)
Daisy Earles (Frieda)

– Daisy Earles (Frieda)

Johnny Eck (standing on one hand)
Johnny Eck (standing on one hand)

– Johnny Eck (Half Boy)

Schlitzie
Schlitzie

– Schlitzie (Himself)

Olga Roderick (Bearded Lady)
Olga Roderick (Bearded Lady)

– Olga Roderick (Bearded Lady)

  • “One of us!” is a line featuring prominently in Freaks, and later adopted into pop culture at large.

Page 8

End Title for Freaks
End Title for Freaks

 

panel 1

  • The end title card is a close copy of the one for Freaks.

panels 3-5

  • The couch is the one that Bugsy Siegel was shot on. The narrator has “seen one like it” recently in CP#6 P7,p2 and CP#11 pages 5-6 and CP#13, pages 1 and 8.

panel 4

  • “A tin monad” is an anagram (signaled by “upsets”) for “damnation” which fits into 13 across shown on P1,p1 above. Damnation is what happened to the legendary Faust who sold his soul to the devil.
  • Monad” has a large number of meanings, but “atom” is one.
  • The crossword layout lacks the radial symmetry typical of almost all crossword puzzles.

panel 5

  • Similar to the prior issue, the story loops with page 8 flowing back into page 1.
  • The fact that the stains look more brown now is likely due to the fact that dried blood is dark brown, not ketchup-red. This implies that the stains were fresh earlier.

>Go to Purgatorio Annotations Index
>Go to Cinema Purgatorio #15 Moore and O’Neill annotations

 

 

4 thoughts on “Cinema Purgatorio CP14

  1. The cover: At Tod Browning’s feet having been stabbed through the heart with a massive pin lies “The Prince of Darkness” Bela Lugosi the original 1931 Dracula, who was typecast and trapped in the role of Dracula for the rest of his life, even being buried in a Dracula cape from the 1931 film when he died in 1959 after his last movie director Ed Wood’s schlockfest film ‘Plan 9 From Outerspace’ considered by many to be one of the best of the “so bad it’s actually good” films ever made.

    Looking from behind the alphabet blocks spelling the name T..O..D is Harry Earles who was in several of Browning’s other films ranging from ‘The Unholy Three’ to Browning’s essential horror masterpiece ‘Freaks’ (1932). Earles also played one of the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. (1939)

    Just beyond Earles is just one of the Armadillos that can be seen in Browning’s 1931 Dracula film. There were also some Opossums that can be seen in that film wondering through Dracula’s castle along with the Armadillos, Giving Browning’s movie a touch of the surreal. Although neither species is native to Transylvania and there was no mention of such animals in the original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The blowflies are of course on the “sleeping” man on our lass’s former row. The one who seemed to be getting closer a few issues back.

    Actually I don’t think she’d have admitted to herself to seeing blowflies before. So she’s gradually coming to terms with it. She’s really not liking it, but it’s unavoidable, some horrible and doom-laden shit is going down. We’ve only got a few issues left, and the scales are falling from the poor woman’s eyes.

    And yes that is a hell of a place to start 15 across! Whoever saw a crossword like that!? Supremely annoying, I’ll be writing to my Member of Parliament.

    Like

  3. This statement is almost completely wrong: “Unlike in the US (where X-rated movies are essentially banned from release), the British ratings board would occasionally rate movies (especially horror movies) as “X” from 1951-1972.”

    The X certificate was actually used very frequently in the UK and was a general classification to indicate the film was only suitable for viewers aged 16 and over (later 18 and over). In 1950 it superseded the earlier ‘H’ certificate, which was used solely to indicate horror films.

    Unlike in the US there was never any specific lurid/horrific/pornographic connotation to the X certificate. For example, films certified X in 1979 included ‘Eraserhead’, ’10’, ‘The Warriors’ and ‘Saturday Night Fever’.

    The X certificate was replaced by the 18 certificate as part of a general overhaul of the BBFC’s ratings in 1982, not 1972.

    Liked by 1 person

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