Remaking Film Mistakes: “Chained for Life” and Ableism in Film

Chained for Life, by Aaron Schimberg, shares a name with another film and that is not without some deliberate purpose. Schimberg’s film is not a remake but a reclamation and interrogation of a type of film that showed the limits of good-intentioned art about non-normative groups of people where they are merely subjects and not authors.

The prologue to the 1952 Chained for Life, an exploitation film meets rather ludicrous crime procedural, begins with a directive to its audience. “This story has a real problem!” a middle-age judge says in his monologue to the viewer as he sits down in his office. Directed by journeyman Harry L. Fraser and produce by Poverty Row veteran and jack of all trades George Moskov, this sixty-nine-minute film is more social experiment than anything else.

Imagine a Stanley Kramer “problem picture” in low-budget William Castle clothing. The film presents a dilemma with one-half of a pair of conjoin twin sisters. Dorothy and Vivian Hamilton, on trial for the murder of her (Vivian’s) lover. The dilemma is if she, Vivian, is sentence to death, should her sister. Dorothy, portray as having no culpability in this crime, have to suffer the consequences.

Presented as one, the Hilton Sisters, their real names Violet and Daisy

They were a real-life traveling act from Britain who sang and perform across the world. By this point, the twins were in their forties and had their fame taper off dramatically. Sideshows and vaudeville were dead arts and their most widely known appearance was in the film was Tod Browning’s Freaks, two decades before.

This Chained for Life did not deliberately teeter on the question of exhibitionism or exploitation, as Browning’s film did. The 1952 film is an oddity, a strange mixture of in media res murder trial that goes back in time and a showcase of the twins singing. There are some charge moments, like a soft-focus dream sequence where Dorothy detaches from Vivian and stands out of their share bed, in many ways freed. But then dream ends and Dorothy is in tears of guilt.

The twins are shown in an argument about seeking medical help: Vivian does not want to be treate like a guinea pig and concern that separation could kill them while Dorothy wants to live her own life. This scene stands out among the rest of the film. It is as though the audience is intruding on an actual debate the sisters may have had many times over throughout their lives.

Chained for Life ends unresolve, calling for its audience to decide—the film’s cynical ploy to stoke conversations.

Real society did fail the Hilton sisters, abandon and barely scraping by until their deaths in 1969. They live forever in a format of film that were not much better than how society mistreate them their whole lives. That oscillating between outright exploiting them and this bungl attempt at humanizing them.

Not all movies are in the goofy B-movie package of 1952’s Chained for Life. But it proves to be depressing in realizing how dialogues and messages generate from making films on ableism and disability remain pretty trite and unevolve. Tod Browning’s Freaks may always be forever an anomaly in terms of unleash id in such a troublesome, unnerving film. But as demonstrate above.

Even films that highlight prejudices face by these sideshow characters become themselves a different type of sideshow:

Films that stumble into situations that then commit the same sins they seek to criticize. That as is the case with 1952’s Chained for Life. Schimberg’s Chained for Life features a film within the film calle God’s Mistakes, about patients at a hospital who undergo various experimentations by a doctor.

The cast for these patients for God’s Mistakes includes non-professionals previously believe. That have been “phase out” members of society such as “beard ladies” and “Siamese twins,”. Who work alongside the more professional actors who are in the roles of doctors, nurses, and one blind patient. That play by Mabel Fairchild (Jess Weixler), who is looking for her big break.

Mabel is not blind but a working, able-body actress whose films pop up from TV from time to time. But not yet in the realm of fame to be taking franchise roles in mainstream Hollywood. She takes this role, presumably as one of the bigger names in God’s Mistakes’s cast. That to work with the mysterious, enigmatic art-house director known simply as Herr Director (origins not completely known, possibly German and had allegedly been part of a circus troupe in his youth). He is making his English-language debut.


Rating: NR
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Aaron Schimberg
Stars: Jess Weixler, Adam Pearson, Stephen Plunkett
Written By: Aaron Schimberg
In Theaters: Sep 11, 2019 Limited
Runtime: 92 minutes
Studio: Kino Lorber


Josh Slater-Williams
A sharp movie about moviemaking, with welcome surreal touches that are best left unspoiled.

Leslie Felperin
This low-budget film written and directed by Aaron Schimberg is almost every kind of strange, and yet it has an amiable warmth and an inexhaustible reserve of originality that make it compelling as hell.

Robert Abele
Anchored by Weixler’s and Pearson’s natural charm, “Chained for Life” stands up as both a quiet ode to the experimental, dreamlike spirit of moviemaking and a seriocomic corrective to sentimentalized sideshow portrayals.

Sheila O’Malley
A meaningful, moving, and often quite funny interrogation of beauty in the movies.

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