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Reviews & Ratings for
Nightmare Alley More at IMDbPro »

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Grim noir with Tyrone Power

Author: Camera Obscura from The Dutch Mountains
17 December 2006

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

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A revelation for those who think of Ty Power as just a pretty boy

Author: jaynef from Orlando, Florida
31 May 1999

Made before lifestyle, illness and depression aged him before his time, Nightmare Alley will change the mind of anyone who thought Tyrone Power was, 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!

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

superb move. best thing tyrone power ever did. hope it is reissued not remade.

Author: jcf13 ( from sioux city, iowa
25 August 2001

as thing power ever did. needs to be reissued. not remade. black and white is more effective in this movie. remake would spoil it. it needs to be morbid to be as fascinating as it is. power plays a heel as a heel has not often been played.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Freaks & Geeks.

Author: morrison-dylan-fan from United Kingdom
7 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Shortly after ordering a DVD of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Film Noir The Murderer Lives At Number 21,I suddenly got the strange idea,that along with a French Film Noir,I should pick up a movie set in a circus/carnival for a friends upcoming birthday! Discovering an old thread on IMDb about circus/carnival titles,I spotted in amongst the family friendly flicks a wonderful-sounding Film Noir,which led to me getting ready to walk down a nightmare alley.

The plot:

Working in a travelling carnival with husband and wife "mind reading" act Zeena & Pete Krumbein, Stanton "Stan" Carlisle finds himself extremely impressed with the secret code that the Zeena's have developed,which allows the crowds to be fooled into thinking that they are mind readers. Desperate to be taught the code, Carlisle tries to seduce Zeena away from her alcoholic husband,but is quickly pushed to the side lines.

Before the carnival moves to a new location Carlisle meets a Tarot Card reader,who tells him that Pete will die very soon. Finding Pete down in the dumps a few nights later, Carlisle gets a bottle of Moonshine to cheer him up.After he has drank every drop, Carlisle discovers that he has accidentally passed a bottle of wood alcohol,which soon kills Pete.With having no one else to perform the act with,Zeena decides to reveal the secret code to Carlisle,and starts to fall in love for him. Beginning a romantic relationship with a young carnival performer called Molly, Carlisle is caught by surprise,when his fellow workers uncover the romance,and for him to get married to Molly. Booted out of the carnival, Carlisle decides to teach Molly the secret routine so that he can finally reach the top,as Carlisle starts to become a carnivorous carnie.

View on the film:

Before I get to the movie,I have to mention that whilst they have given a transfer with good sound & picture quality,Odeon Entertainment have disappointingly deleted all of the extras from the US and long deleted original Masters of Cinema Region 2 editions of the title.

For the first hour of Jules Furthman's adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's novel,the screenplay focuses on building Carlisle's psychotic personality,with the carnival setting surrounding Carlisle with freaks & geeks who he mercilessly takes advantage of in order to grab the limelight,with no regard at all for the effect it will have on his fellow performers.Along with striking Carlisle's Film Noir personality across the screen, Furthman also begins to subtle lay down cards which get turned during the final round.

Furthman slowly has Carlisle develop an uneasy sense of doubt of the revelations of the Tarot cards, to Carlisle having strong feelings of grandeur over being able to dominate and con anyone that stands in his way.Whilst the psychotic Noir mood that Furthman has been threading is clipped for an optimistic final note which goes against Gresham's novel, (most likely due to the Hays Code still having some grasp on power) Furthman takes Carlisle out of the carnival,and places him in a ruthless urban circus,where Carlisle's former attention-grabbing tricks are no match for the psychologically quick-witted circus animals waiting to get Carlisle in their grasp.

Despite the ratings board leading to a (what now appears long lost) scene involving carnival geeks attacking a chicken being pulled from the title,director Edmund Goulding & cinematographer Lee Garmes are still able to unleash an excellent,off-beat Film Noir atmosphere.For the carnival sequences,Goulding and Garmes dim the circus lights in order to cast long dark shadows across the screen,which reveal the darkness hiding behind Carlisle's colourful tricks.Getting out of the carnival,Goulding and Garmes superbly use tightly held, stilted shots to tear apart the charming image that Carlisle has built for himself,in order to uncover the decaying animal lurking beneath the surface.

Going against his good-guy image, Tyrone Power gives an excellent performance as Carlisle,with Power impressively making Carlisle's carnival act a tense affair,despite the viewer being told how the magic tricks are done.Gradually peeling away Carlisle's showmanship,Power strikes a brutal intensity,thanks to Power showing Carlisle not care about what method he must use to get to the top,even if it plunges him deeper into being a Film Noir loner.Lighting up the screen with their beauty, Joan Blondell/Coleen Gray & Helen Walker each give fantastic performances,with Blondell giving Zeena an underlying sense of doubt over teaching Carlisle the act,whilst Gray counters Blondell's unease by giving Molly a sweet,naïve charm,as Helen Walker burns Carlisle's nightmare carnival down

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Step Right Up, If You Dare!

Author: JLRMovieReviews from United States
1 December 2011

Every once in a while, you'll come across a film that will blow you away, or will totally blow your mind, one to get really excited about. This is one of them. Tyrone Power works at a carnival as a Hurry-Hurry-Up-Ladies-and-Gentlemen-Step Right-This-Way-There's-Something-to-See-Something-Startling host. And, by the way, he's fascinated by the geek. Who's the geek? What, is, a geek? Joan Blondell is the mentalist who knows all, sees all, with the help of a guy under the top hat in her act. This film is certainly one of a kind and has to be a crowning achievement for its director, Edmund Goulding. Truly exceptional films you want to watch again once you finish them. I could watch it right now. Through a series of events, Power gets overcome by and even more greedy for power. It may be his undoing, others try to warn him. The tarot cards don't lie, Joan tells him. But does he listen? Will Tyrone Power survive his own ego, or will it be the ruin of him? This is certainly his shining hour. If Tyrone only made one film, this should be the one. Watch and see for yourself. What is going on here? What's the attraction? And, what is a geek? Step right up, if you dare.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

A film noir cult classic

Author: sme_no_densetsu from Canada
15 March 2011

"Nightmare Alley" is a film noir based on William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel of the same name, which is a minor classic of noir fiction. In the movie, a mentalist works his way up from seedy travelling carnivals to upscale nightclubs, eventually discovering that the real money is in posing as a spiritualist. His relentless ambition drives him on despite warnings that disaster will result.

Tyrone Powers, in a departure from his usual swashbuckling fare, tackled the lead role and did a bang-up job. His charisma came in handy as part of the character's professional persona but he was also able to exhibit a keen sense of malice when necessary. Joan Blondell & Helen Walker offer excellent support while Coleen Gray is a notch below them in my estimation. The rest of the cast is decent but not particularly remarkable.

Edmund Goulding's direction is tasteful and the stark cinematography of Lee Garmes is consistently attractive. The score by Cyril Mockridge helps to establish the mood, as does the convincing set design.

Ultimately, "Nightmare Alley" contains a wealth of grim drama with little cause for criticism. The script perhaps tries to accomplish too much, resulting in a bit of convolution, but the story nevertheless remains compelling from beginning to end.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

No Alley Involved but a couple of GEEKS

Author: davegrenfell from london, england
29 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Brilliant movie, classic example of good, dense, cinematic writing. A propulsive plot rockets from the depths of a touring carnival to the airless heights of wealthy but emotionally derelict high society. Tyrone Power, preaching religion, saying he is God's messenger and so on, nearly getting his own church, just goes one step too far and plummets to the depths, in two excellent scenes, becoming first a drunk tramp and then: a GEEK. Anyone not familiar with this movie may not realise that the word GEEK was popularised,perhaps even created, by the writer of the original source novel. A GEEK being the lowest carnie act,the drunk, the junkie, forced by the carnie boss to live in a cage and bite the heads off chickens for their next fix. Tyrone starts off as a barker for a mind reading act, steals his partners first act, a 'code' mind reading act, sort of accidentally killing off his love rival along the way,then, forced to marry the young Electra, he runs off and becomes successful. He teams up with a young psychiatrist to ripoff her wealthy patients; she records their sessions and lets tyrone know the good bits. When the brown stuff hits the fan she kind of manages to convinces tyrone that it's all been in his head and she can get him put away for life. I would also recommend I Wake up Screaming and Conflict.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Don't forget, to err is human- -to forgive- -divine.

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
25 August 2011

Nightmare Alley is directed by Edmund Goulding and adapted to screenplay by Jules Furthman from William Lindsay Gresham's novel. It stars Tyrone Power, Coleen Gray, Joan Blondell, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes and Mike Mazurki. Music is by Cyril J. Mockridge and cinematography by Lee Garmes.

The rise and fall of Carnival Barker, Stanton Carlisle……..

Picture opens with Cyril Mockridge's ominous music, sprinkled with carny strains, it's a portent of what is to come. The characters of this particular travelling carnival then enter the fray, boxed in by Lee Garmes' shadowy photography. Mood is set at dark, not even the sight of a handsome Tyrone Power can shift the feeling that there is bleakness coming our way. Thankfully, that is the case.

Due to a legal dispute, Nightmare Alley was out of the mainstream circulation for over fifty years. A crime that robbed a whole generation of film noir lovers the chance to sample this excellent picture. Power had himself purchased the rights to Gresham's novel, determined to expand his range and break free of his typecasting as a Matinée Idol, Power wanted to play bad and got his wish. In the process giving arguably his finest career performance as Stanton Carlisle, a small time hustler who gleefully casts away human feelings to rise to the top as part of a spiritualist/mind reading act. But this is film noir, and around the corner are people just as unscrupulous as he is.

Have I ever mentioned God in this racket?

Very talky for the most part, it's the backdrops to the story that serve the narrative so well. Be it the carnival and the assortment of characters that inhabit it, or the up market club where Stanton and his wife, Molly (Gray), use psychological trickery on the affluent members of society, there's a disquiet, a sadness even, to proceedings, with Goulding and Furthman also casting an acerbic eye on social institutions and religious fervour. The latter of which provoked complaints from religious orders. There's barely a good or level headed human being to be found for the whole running time, picture is full of phonies and con-artists, gullibles and straw clutchers, beasts and alcoholics, it's no wonder the suits at the PCA got all twitchy! This is a bleak world view, and had it finished two minutes earlier, then we would be talking about one of the finest of all film noir endings. Sadly 20th Century Fox chief Darryl Zanuck had Goulding tag on a coda to get past the PCA. Not a film killer, no sir, but a disappointment for sure.

Lilith: A female demon of the night….

The team assembled for the production is of a high quality. Power and Goulding may be out of place in the genre of film noir, but they both come out with much credit. The former is thoroughly absorbing and the latter knits it together without fuss; letting the actors fully form Furthman's (To Have and Have Not/The Big Sleep) seductively crisp screenplay, while Garmes (Scarface/Detective Story) brings the chiaroscuro, which makes a nice devilish bedfellow for Mockridge's (Road House) music. Benefiting most from Goulding's direction is Helen Walker (Murder in the Music Hall/Call Northside 777) as Lilith Ritter, an excellent portrayal of the icy cold psychiatrist who forms an intriguing axis between the three women in Stanton's life. Both Gray (Kiss of Death/Kansas City Confidential) and Blondell (Cry Havoc) earn their money as polar opposites jostling for Stanton's attentions, and Ian Keith gives a heart tugging performance as alcoholic Pete Krumbein, a critical character that spins the protagonist into a vortex of smug charlatanism-cum-self loathing.

Now available on DVD with a lovely transfer, this is worthy of a delve for the film noir dwellers. 9/10

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

entertaining, up to a point

Author: Michael Neumann from United States
20 December 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ambitious carnival barker Tyrone Power cons his way into the limelight with a popular mind-reading act, enlisting the aid of a lady shrink with even less scruples than himself to become a spiritual messiah for gullible rubes. The film itself has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, blending psychology with the supernatural to show the darker side of the circus midway. But the plot turns corny when the con becomes religious, and when Powers finally transgresses against God Himself he pays the ultimate price: falling from Miracle Man to Wanted Man to Sideshow Circus Geek. It's too bad a film of such rare cynicism had to turn so soft in the end, but it remains an original, entertaining drama, well acted and more than a few years ahead of its time.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Who's conning who?

Author: CCsito from United States
1 October 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film has Tyrone Power playing a dramatic role quite different from the musical and matinée idol roles of his earlier films. He is a carnival huckster who schemes to make it big by playing a psychic who can tell personal things about people that he never met. He begins working with a carnival troupe and after he is forced to marry one of its female members because of a perceived intimate relationship with her, he then decides to leave the carnival and start a new act with his wife. He works in fancy nightclubs trying to impress the well heeled audience of his psychic abilities. He then becomes involved with one of the customers in the nightclubs who also does some shady psychological work on the side with her patients. The psychologist becomes his aide when getting information about some of the rich clients that he dupes. He later gets double crossed by her and ends up running from the law. He sends his wife away so that she will be able to make a living with another carnival. He wanders around and becomes a drunken drifter and eventually is hired to work as a helper in one of the traveling carnival acts. However, his drunken demons haunt him just as the earlier ones who also took to the bottle which causes him to act irrationally. He happens to meet his wife who also is working at the carnival and they are reunited.

The film didn't have a clear hero or heroine. Many of the characters were on the shady side trying to make a living off from unsuspecting customers. In a way, it sort of mimicked the way sales people perform in order to induce a potential customer to bite. Tyrone Power's performance was very good as the carnival troupe worker. Near the end of the movie, his facial change to a drunken drifter was very dramatic and quite a change from his handsome appearance. A good supporting cast that included Joan Blondell and Coleen Gray made for a well paced and quick moving movie.

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