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In Nightmare Alley, Tyrone Power is like the George Clooney of the
1940s, yet in a role with a pathetic side that Clooney has never dared
to play. His cool, his eyes, his placid stance and walk, and his
immovable self-confidence. Power is however more intense in this role
than Clooney has ever been in any of his roles. Colleen Grey, the
female lead, is one of the sexiest knockouts I've ever seen. I am sold
when she first appears in her circus uniform, the glittery skivvies
revealing that she is not skinny, but given to thick curves, especially
in her smolderingly pliable and smooth hips. She plays a good-girl
role, the role she always hated to play, wishing she had roles like
Helen Walker's, who plays a wicked psychologist, and quite well.
The story is an interesting weaving of a con game, a horrific tale of descent, and a rags-to-riches story of luck. It's intriguing. Nightmare Alley is true film noir, whether it has gangs and guns or not, because we follow a main character who is suave and personable to without a conscience and almost a little ashamed of it. There are clever crimes, wicked antagonists, and dark, cutting cinematography. It's a must for noir fans.
It's the second time I've seen "Nightmare Alley" and I still consider
it Goulding's best of all his movies I've ever seen.
Tyrone Power gives perhaps his greatest performance ever.As great when he plays a handsome miracle worker as when he portrays a human wreck.
The screenplay is absorbing from start to finish .The geek scenes might seem pointless at the beginning of the movie but just wait and see...Magic (fake magic) walks hand in hand with religion :the sequence when Power tells the marshal's fortune is the key to the film:the crook knows the Bible and how to use it to good effects ,he read it in a reform school.
The whole film is wrapped in an atmosphere of mystery: from the secret code-which fools us the audience - to the tarots Zeena reads and which often mean death ,from the psychologist's recordings -which predate lots of movie by decades ("Conversation" "Sliver" )to this extraordinary scene in Grindle's garden ( it looks like a cathedral!) which is given a supernatural treatment whereas ,we ,the audience ,do know that all is phoney! When Stanton realizes that he reigns over people 's minds,he does believe he is more than a magician : he is a miracle worker,a minister,not far from God himself.It's no surprising he teams up with a psychologist .Who can deny that today the shrink has replaced the priest for many people ?For that too ,"nightmare alley" was years ahead of its time.
The psychologist is Stanton's perfect partner:she knows his weaknesses she uses "what we call "total recall" -well before Verhoeven-" to dominate him,he who wanted to rule the world of minds.We do not really know whether the police cars arrive with their sirens wailing or if she suggests it or if it's in Stanton's mind.
God preserve us from a remake of this masterful film noir!
I need not comment on the story since so many have already done so but
I'd like to say that it's one of the best films I've seen to deal with
the subject of basic "mentalism" and the "life beyond". It's remarkable
how subtle the dialog becomes when appearing to be psychic, such as the
episode with the sheriff and how convincing Ty Power becomes. It's
excellent acting, I must say! He carries us along as well as his
intended victim(s), with superb conviction.
However, there's a moral standard that cannot be superseded with impunity. Displaying mental gymnastics is one thing but when it falls into a code of conduct which ignores these basic human ethics and descends into self-serving action alone, it can very well spell disaster.
I was surprised by the strong performance of Joan Blondell as I'd seen her in so many films that were pleasantly entertaining, but here it was realism and unpretentious emotion.
Helen Walker seems familiar as a femme fatale; not sure if she'd ever played a good girl part in films but here she's in character and very effective too.
I've only seen this film once so will have to take it in a few more times to really appreciate the entire story. It does stay in one's thoughts long after. It's good drama, a bit raw, but at its best.
Nightmare Alley was once an obscure film, but with recent DVD releases
on both sides of the Atlantic; I suspect it will now become slightly
less obscure. That's a good thing too, because a film noir as classy
and as dark as this one really shouldn't be ignored. The film follows
the familiar noir themes of a man getting himself into trouble, and the
plot here is wound up in a tight cocktail of lies and trickery. The
plot is notable for its dark themes, but it also stands out because of
the fact that it's so different from the majority of noir plots. The
plotting is more freewheeling than usual, and this helps to give the
audience the impression that anything could happen next. The film
professes the danger of using lies as a foundation for your life, and
this is explored through the tragic story of a promising young man
named Stanton Carlisle. We see him in his early days working on a
circus, and then his rise to fame as nightclub mystic. However, if you
aim too high, you're always going to be brought down; and our hero
finds the truth in that the hard way.
The film starts off on a circus ground, which is a location not often seen in film noir. Tod Browning's "Freaks" proved what a great environment for a film to take place in a circus ground can be, and this film proves it further. After the first half, the film moves into more familiar locations; but director Edmund Goulding keeps the sense of mystery and intrigue on board. The plot has a mystic angle to it, and this works very well within a genre that usually gives us straight, rough-edged stories. The plot has lots to say, and there is a very definite message to be learnt from it; although, admittedly, some of its potency is removed by way of said mystic angle. Technically, Nightmare Alley is surely one of the best films of the classic film noir age. The acting is superb, with Tyrone Power shifting gears several times, but always keeping his portrayal of the lead character coherent and consistent. Coleen Gray does the familiar female side of noir thing excellently, and her beautiful face is a highlight every time it appears. On the whole, Nightmare Alley is a film that needs to be discovered no more! Most people in the world should have easy access to a copy of this...and I highly recommend getting one.
A tense film-noir melodrama that typically hovers between A-film status
with Tyrone Power, a major star, some top-writers and an A-list
director, but it has a very B-movie feel to it, mostly because of the
film's unusual characterizations, the setting with the sideshow-artists
and its subsequent reluctant release by 20th-century Fox. Due to these
related rights issues the film was long unseen, and quickly assumed
cult-status that lasted for a long time, but since its DVD-release,
this film came out of obscurity and was generally received as a very
fine and unusual noir-classic.
Tyrone Power is very impressive as Stanton Carlisle, a sideshow hustler who gets a menial job with a cheap carnival and becomes fascinated with a mind-reading act performed by Pete and Zeena (Ian Keith and Joan Blondell). Knowing a good con when he sees one, he learns the tricks of the mind-reading act from Zeena, and seduces her into recreating with him a more spectacular version of the act which relies on a secret word code which enables the spiritualist to discern the questions Carlisle has gathered from patrons in the audience. But soon, Molly (a drop-dead gorgeous Coleen Gray!), a pretty sideshow artist, falls for Carlisle, who is forced by the other Carnival people to marry the girl, and they move to Chicago. Soon, they both start a duo, successful club artist act, reading the minds of upper-class Chiacgo society. One night, a visiting psychologist, Lilith Walker (Helen Walker) is fascinated by Carlisle, and agrees to gives him confidential information about her wealthy clients in return for a substantial cut of the take. Molly, however, finds it increasingly hard to bilk people, and Lilith discovers some damning information about Carlisle form Zeena.
Many of the plot twists are a bit strained and not very credible, and the ultimate downfall of Carlisle seems a bit too far-fetched and extreme to me, but the atmosphere, the crisp photography by Lee Garmes and the acting are all of such high standards, it hardly matters. This was very much Tyrone Power's project, as he wanted to shed his image as just the handsome Saturday matinée-idol, and really wanted to embark on some more ambitious projects in which he could show his talents as a character actor. With this film, he more than proved his capabilities. This is perfect gritty, hard-edged noir, that I can only recommend.
Camera Obscura --- 8/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The story of a young man (Power) who is a barker at a carnival in the
Midwest. He's cuckolding this old drunk, accidentally kills him, and
then coaxes "the code" out of the dead man's wife (Blondell). The
two-person code is a secret way of pronouncing words that enables a
blindfolded "psychic" to read and answer questions that his partner
picks up from the audience. The act is a real moneymaker and soon
enough Power deserts the carnival and takes off with a pretty young
woman (Gray) for the Big Time in Chicago, playing night clubs.
The money rolls in but Power wants more. He falls in with a shrink (Walker) who has a closet full of secrets from her clients. With access to these he bamboozles a rich guy into handing over $150K. Power even gets Gray to pose as the man's long dead love, but Gray breaks down when she sees the "chump" fall to his knees and start to pray, and she blows the con. She and Power barely make it out of town ahead of the police. He sends her back to the carnival and begins hitting the bottle. Some time later he shows up at a carnival, a physical and mental shambles, and is given the lowest job available, a "geek" -- somebody who eats live chickens in return for a bottle a day and a place to sleep it off. He's a broken man but finally comes around when he accidentally joins a carnival that Gray is performing in. End of story.
This is well above average. Much of the credit must go to Tyrone Power in what has to be his best dramatic performance. He's always been good at projecting self confidence, and he does it here, but the script also demands that he turn into an alcoholic wreck and he's equally convincing. The other performances are quite good too, including Joan Blondell as a tough but nurturant floozy, and Colleen Gray, the profile of whose nose speaks for itself. She doesn't HAVE to be particularly good. All she has to do is stand there and you can't take your eyes from that baby-doll face.
Jules Furthman's script helps a lot in unobtrusive ways. In most movies of this type, the characters speak as if they had all graduated from Oberlin. Here they sound like real, working-class stiffs of the 30s and 40s -- dropping their "g"s and sayin' "ain't." The odd double negative don't mean nothing' to them. There isn't too much of this louche touch, just enough for it to slip past our apperceptive apparatus without calling attention to itself.
Ben Nye did the makeup. He ought to get a medal for what he does to Tyrone Power's eyes at the end. Power doesn't look grotesque or in any way overdone, but it's as if Dorian Gray's portrait had suddenly been revealed to us halfway through Wilde's tale. His eyes are just short of a gargoyle's. He looks the way we all sometimes feel in the morning.
Withall, I must say that some of the strength of Power's performance comes from corny overacting. He has two modalities in his presentation of self. One is his usual good-natured self-interested wise-guy cynic. The other is a saintly kind of smiling sing-song he employs while trying to con someone. Now, we in the audience know which is which because we've been clued in by what we've learned. But there are times when he uses his con-man persona on people who should know better, including his wife! Colleen Gray too is liable to lapse into emotional outbursts that don't give us the feeling that there's much behind them except energy. These are the kinds of wrinkles it's the director's job to smooth over and he was nodding at the time.
The photography by Lee Garmes is impressive. Great use of shadows and key lights. In fact the whole movie is pretty good. If only Power had stuck to his phony mentalist act and not dragged God kicking and screaming onto the stage. That's known as "hubris" and you know what happens when you pull THAT kind of stunt.
For me, the most telling scene appears near the end, when Power has become a dipsomaniacal hobo. He and a handful of other bums are huddled under a railroad trestle. Power is holding a bottle of whiskey and begins to demonstrate the carny trick called a "cold reading," using the bottle as a prop. Then he shrugs and makes some rueful comment. While he stares silently, the others take his bottle and pass it around. He shakes off his rumination, looks around with fright, and cries, "Hey, where's my bottle? There won't be enough left for me!" A vagrant replies, "Buddy, you're a real mind reader," and drains it. Power yanks the empty bottle from his hand, goggles at it, and then sucks from it desperately. When he looks around, the others are gone and a train is rattling like a calamity over his head. Potent stuff.
One cannot say that this is Tyrone Power at his most attractive, but you can
say this was his most "adventurous" challenge in his career.
It is not a pretty picture - the story of his descent into "geekdom" and he has come through the test quite brilliantly. There is no doubt that the material is disturbing, and such a role would never have been envisaged as going to Power, but he must have fought Fox very hard to get the very different and provocative main part.
He is supported well by Coleen Gray, and particularly Joan Blondell - the rest of the cast shows what the "Carnies" life can be like. The underrated Helen Walker adds to the interest of such an offbeat movie. See it at your own risk of having a feeling of despair.
Made before lifestyle, illness and depression aged him before his time,
Nightmare Alley will change the mind of anyone who thought Tyrone Power
at best, a competent pretty boy - a lightweight.
This is an excellent film noir, based upon the book by William Lindsay Gresham, detailing the rise and fall of Stanton Carlisle (Power) - from Carny barker to prominent "mentalist" to sideshow geek. Excellent supporting cast, and Power turns in one of the best performances of his career. It is a shame that 20th Century Fox buried this upon release, denying Power a deserved Oscar nomination. The tragedy is compounded by Fox's failure to release this on video. If you *can* see Nightmare Alley - do!
I don't normally watch old, b/w movies but I saw Nightmare Alley as a kid and liked it...as an adult, I loved it. Such an 'advanced' film noir--way ahead of its time and a lesson for everyone. Stories with a moral are good, safe items to count on and this one has a moral that won't stop. I've seen many modern stories that fall short of what this film hits in the first half hour. Bravo...I just wish there were more good films in the vaults like this.Perhaps I should watch more Turner films in the future if there are 'classics' like this to be found. Funny thing, the excellent movie was followed by Hangover Square, another fine film from about the same time. I was thoroughly pleased.
Directed by the English stage-director Edmund Goulding in 1947 on the Twentieth-Century Fox lot, this stylish B&W film, under-rated in its time, bravely sets out to tell the story of a totally disagreeable character --a carnival con-man turned spiritualist who eventually gets his comeuppance. It is notable in that one of Hollywood's most beautiful leading men, Tyrone Power, had the courage to play this unsympathetic and unappealing part: by the final sequences of the film, he even manages to make himself look wholly unattractive. The classic noir look --the deep shadows, the carnival atmosphere, the night scenes-- are helped enormously by the lighting and compositions of the great cinematographer Lee Garmes and the unusual casting: Helen Walker is particularly effective as the psychologist; the patrician Taylor Holmes as the rich man who is conned; and Joan Blondell, the lovable heroine of so many a Warner Bros. musicals, in one of the first of her blowzy roles.
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