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There are many aspects to this film, which must give inevitable and
almost compulsory afterthoughts, but it is actually basically a very
moral tale simply about hubris, offering an anatomy of how it works.
The story is the more convincing and shocking for being totally logical
all the way - there is no flaw in the human logic anywhere, although it
more than just touches on the supernatural. Stan does really possess
powers of more than ordinary psychological or spiritual insight, but
the problem is that instead of learning how to deal with them wisely he
is carried away by the intoxication of their possibilities. Indeed, he
might have succeeded and reached the utmost top, if he hadn't met with
a mercilessly calculating professional psychologist, who doesn't
hesitate to abuse her superior knowledge of the workings of the human
mind for her own selfish ends.
The film is the more shocking and upsetting for there being no open violence anywhere - there are threats, and one slight encounter, but the absence of any physical violence and the more brutal and evil mental violence strikes home much more fatally and is what turns this film and story into a nightmare. The stone cold inhumanity in the treachery of who actually helped him to success is what turns everything upside down and ruins him, and his position is of supreme vulnerability, as it only rests on good faith, - and that's what turns him to the opposite extreme. "How can you sink so low? Because he rose too high." It's a heart-rending story, and no one could have made it more convincing than Tyrone Power, an actor too good-looking for his own good, which was evident from the very start of his career, and somehow he manages to put his own tragedy into this film, which he himself considered his best.
At the same time it's a scary parable of Hollywood and how it works, how it's all built on dreams and make-believe, and how little it takes to make it all crumble. This film was made at the peak of the noir epoch and might well be the best noir film of them all, offering much more than what meets the eye and can be grasped by mortal understanding, leaving you more than almost any other film more to think of afterwards than you can fathom.
i nearly fell off my computer chair.......I'm the biggest fan of mr, power but i think his roles of pretty boys were getting as little tedious... for 40 years my favourite was SON OF FURY.......suddenly i bought NIGHTmare alley............sensational playing against type and worthy of an Oscar nod...but those idiots no nothing of cinema. the story line terrific...black and white cinematography simply genial and the actors....BLONDELL really outdid herself here......WALKER WHO DIED TOO SOON WAS AN actress of vigor and attraction....discovered COLEEN GRAY had never seen her before. BUT TYRONE POWER WHAT A GREAT ACTOR......hope some people told him this.
Stan, a charming drifter and hustler, takes a job as a carny with a
traveling carnival and sees a lucrative opportunity to become a
mentalist using a secret code owned by Zeena, the resident seer.
Although the impossibly handsome Tyrone Power is hard to accept as a
down-on-his-luck itinerant, he handles the role well and becomes more
convincing as Stan rises in the world of the phony occult to become a
nightclub entertainer, the Great Stanton. Parallel to Power's
increasing credibility, the film, "Nightmare Alley," improves in
interest and quality as well. The early scenes in the carnival are
choppy and unconvincing, although they do provide the necessary
background to what follows. The usually captivating Joan Blondell over
plays Zeena, and, fortunately, her screen time diminishes as the story
unfolds. The other supporting performances are uneven, and Coleen Gray,
who plays the smitten Molly, is especially unconvincing; however, Helen
Walker well plays a key role as an ambiguous psychologist, who wears
mannish attire and is the only female not duped by Stan.
Perhaps the message of director Edmund Goulding's noirish film with a pulp fiction title is the danger inherent in trying to reach too high. Fate also plays a major part, and Zeena's tarot cards foretell much of what transpires, and unanswered questions linger as to whether or not any of the characters have true psychic powers. Psychic or not, the caddish Power utilizes his charm and looks to manipulate women; he uses Zeena to learn the code that allows secret communication between an assistant and a blindfolded mentalist; he uses the simple Molly to deceive gullible patrons; he uses the female psychologist to gain inside information. Stan's greed and ambition lead to the cruel deception of people suffering emotional loss, and he ventures into the quasi-religious to achieve his ends.
Cinematographer Lee Garmes lensed the film with rich black-and-white imagery; abstract shadows highlight several scenes, and Garmes captures Tyrone Power at the peak of his legendary movie star appeal. Despite a slow start, "Nightmare Alley" develops into an interesting story of deception and ambition run amok; however, Jules Furthman's screenplay from a novel by William Lindsay Gresham takes an intriguing turn towards the end, but then limps to a sappy fade-out. The film is a star vehicle for Tyrone Power, who does a good job with the role of Stan, and, after a mediocre start, captures and retains viewers' interest for most of its running time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As bleak a film as Hollywood was likely to produce in 1947. Directing this film version of the William Lindsay Gresham novel, Edmund Goulding presents a very odd noir. Tyrone Power is a grifter running with a carnival who decides he can make some real dough as a high class nightclub spiritualist. He cons his way to the top and back again. It's not a pleasant film but it's a great one. Power, cast wildly against type, is excellent and the supporting cast includes the great Joan Blondell, Colleen Gray and Mike Mazurki. A film with more twists and turns than five other noirs put together, all played against the most unsavory backdrops. A flop on its release, the film is now a bona-fide cult classic. The stunning cinematography is by Lee Garmes. A most unlikely masterpiece.
Very different role for Tyrone Power. He plays an ambitious man who rises from carnival barker and assistant to fake psychic Joan Blondell to becoming a successful fake psychic himself. His rise is interesting to watch, if somewhat familiar stuff. But it's his fall that is the most gripping part of the film. You do not expect things to go the way they do, if only because it's Tyrone Power and this was back in the day when studios did not take too many risks with their big stars. This role is unlike anything else in Power's career and he does an amazing job with it. The rest of the cast is good with Joan Blondell (who I adore), Mike Mazurki, and Coleen Gray giving solid turns. Special mention should go to Ian Keith and Helen Walker. Keith plays Blondell's ill-fated alcoholic husband and Walker plays an evil psychiatrist. Both are stand-out performances. It's a dark film, both in terms of its story and director Edmund Goulding's shadowy film noir style. For Tyrone Power fans, it's essential viewing. For everybody else, do yourself a favor and try it out. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Edmund Goulding directed this melodrama that stars Tyrone power as Stan Carlisle, an ambitious carnival worker who is determined to learn the code used by Zeena(played by Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband Pete. After Pete dies, Stan moves in and takes over Pete's part, and they become a big hit, though he really loves fellow carny worker Molly(played by Coleen Gray). He tosses Zeena aside and starts his own act as "The Great Stanton" in high society and fancy nightclubs, but his past comes back to haunt him, not to mention his greedy nature will prove to be his undoing... Wild film has fine performances and atmosphere, but not especially high on credibility, though features an ending that will certainly leave an impression on viewer, and most distinct look at this kind of life since "Freaks"(1932).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A huge money-loser, this film is -- ironically -- one of Tyrone Powers'
better performances...in part because he played against type...the
shady con artist...but that also may be why the public stayed away from
the box office. Nevertheless, it has been said that this was Powers'
Tyrone Power, of course, heads the cast...playing a carny who starts out as a pretty decent sort, but over time degenerates into a money hungry fraud. We see Joan Blondell only in the fist half of the film, but this is one of her best performances...as another carny. I did not find Coleen Gray, as Powers' wife, very convincing...but it doesn't hurt the film much. Helen Walker was interesting as the scheming psychologist. This is one of the few films where Mike Mazurki actually demonstrated some acting ability beyond just being a "big lug".
The lot line here is excellent. Tyrone Power works a lowly job in a carnival with Mademoiselle Zeena -- a fortune teller -- (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband. They were once a top-billed act using a code to fake extraordinary mental powers. Powers indirectly causes the death of Zeena's husband by putting some wood alcohol right next to a bottle of moonshine. Without her husband/partner, Zeena teaches Powers the mind-reading code, and he becomes her new assistant. But, while still working at the carnival, Powers is forced into a shotgun wedding to the young Molly (Coleen Gray). Powers and his young wife leave the carnival and he becomes "The Great Stanton", who performs his new shtick at high class nightclubs. But, he is working toward a crooked payoff where he will milk rich and gullible members of the social elite. When he meets a shady female psychologist, he finds the perfect partner in his scheme. She provides him with secrets of her clientele, and he uses the info to bilk them. However, Powers' wife breaks down during one of the scams and Powers hitches a ride out of town on a freight train and becomes a bum. He sinks into alcoholism, winds up back at the carnival, and can only get a job as a "geek" -- the lowest form of life there who plays a crazy person who eats live chickens in a sideshow. The ending is ambiguous, although it implies that Powers' wife saves him...or does he just drink himself to death? It's all in the tarot cards.
The one flaw in the plot is that some of the code used in their act couldn't possibly tell Powers all he seems to know. But, if you overlook that, you can really enjoy the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
... and what a nightmare world for the viewer as well as Tyrone's
character, conman Stanton. When it begins you are grounded in reality -
you pretty much know what is real and what is not real, just like
Stanton. But then doubts begin to crop up. What is Stanton thinking
when he gives Pete that bottle of what he says he believes is gin? Is
he trying to kill him or is he trying to get "the code" out of him or
does he just take pity on a poor drunk whose wife he is boinking behind
his back? Was the whole thing an accident as it would appear to be by
the look on Stan's face in another scene? When Stanton crosses over
from nightclub act to a fake spiritualist preacher claiming he can
contact the dead, does he begin to partially begin to believe his own
press and hallucinate the assistance of an individual who later denies
she had anything to do with his con? You'll really wonder if you aren't
seeing the last half of this film from the standpoint of Stan's
possible insanity when you see characters that were acting one way
suddenly begin to act, without segue, in another way entirely in
another scene. But that's the key - it's always a transition in
behavior in another scene, not within a scene.
The only character that seems truly grounded in reality - fake mentalist Zeena, played by the wonderful Joan Blondell who retains her mystery and sex appeal into her 40's. She'll always be that classy brassy dame I first saw in Sinner's Holiday no matter how old she is. She knows the score, and when she realizes maybe she misread the score she can roll with the punches and just walk away, dignity intact.
Stanton Carlisle is at the center of the story and is a complex character who is fascinating to watch. Sent to reform school for escaping from an orphanage, he learned early to con people to get his way, something he freely admits, but he is not entirely vile. He's greedy with delusions of grandeur, but he's never malicious. And I don't think the character ever realizes himself he does have some kind of mind reading gift besides just the con. A couple of times he pulls details out of thin air about people that he could not have figured out by any "tell" on their parts. Is his final unraveling the punishment by God that his wife predicts, or is it his own conscience turning him into the "hanged man" as Zeena foretold, to punish himself for his own misdeeds?
The most intriguing character in the film second to Tyrone's Stanton has got to be Helen Walker's Lillith Ritter. Was she a con artist or was all of that a figment of Stan's imagination? When she's playing it straight as psychologist, though, there sure is a similarity to Lillith Crane, Frasier's wife then ex-wife in the sitcoms Cheers and Frasier 40 years later. Could this character have been the inspiration for that later character? I wonder, especially when you examine the hairdo and the demeanor of both.
I just pulled this out at random last night to watch it and it sure does stick with you. It's disquieting and thought provoking 66 years after it's release, so I can imagine how it must have been received by people who were accustomed to seeing Tyrone Power as matinée idol or swashbuckler. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While watching this film I made a mental comparison to Tod Browning's
"Freaks", with the idea coming away that the real freaks and geeks were
the carny customers who bought the hokum. My Dad actually clued me in
as a young boy about the Man Eating Chicken, but this wasn't that kind
of a picture. "Freaks" was.
In the best noir tradition, the only thing missing here was murder, unless you want to stretch the definition of old Pete's succumbing to the evils of wood alcohol. Once Stan (Tyrone Power) makes the transition from carny con-man to night club mentalist, it's only a matter of time before he's grifted by a real pro, psychologist Lilith Ritter. For Helen Walker, this appeared to be a delicious role, sucking Stanton in with dreams of a big money prize by hooking a wealthy attorney. Just think if Molly (Coleen Gray) hadn't cracked in Grindle's (Taylor Holmes) sanctuary; this would have gone in an entirely different direction.
What makes the story credible is Pete's early explanation of a stock reading, and how 'the code' is used by serious practitioners of mind reading and tarot interpreters. I'm kind of curious about that code business because it seems to me you could only carry the ruse so far. I mean, how many different buzz words can you come up with or inflections to the way you say them. Anyway, you can't think about that too much or it'll get in the way of the story.
I haven't seen many films with Tyrone Power, but he was uniformly excellent here in a non-traditional heel role. Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, and Mike Mazurki were all good, but oh, that Helen Walker, she nailed it here by setting up the next geek for the sideshow circuit, gypsy switch and all. The only thing that bothers me now that I think about it was how a gifted grifter like Stan never saw it coming with Ritter. Why didn't he figure she would be recording him too?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Nightmare Alley" sounds ominous and, like the title, this movies
slowly paints a dark picture of how one man's greed gravitates to
black. In the genre of film noir, where hard-boiled criminals usually
graduate from petty crime to murderous thugs, this film stands out with
a much different story. Nightmare Alley is a story of a carnival
huckster with blind ambition who rises to fleece the gullible masses as
a sort of psychic visionary. This stark black and white tome'
brilliantly hangs a dark cloud over the protagonist early and slowly
wraps it around everything, and everyone, he uses in his spectacular
rise which ultimately, due to blind greed, folds like the "house of
Edmund Golding, whose unsavory off-screen lifestyle likely cost him the academy's recognition for direction, nonetheless directed many fine dramas. "Grand Hotel", which did in fact win Best Picture in 1932, is one, though not the only, example of this. It likely came as a bit of a surprise when he worked that same deftness in bringing the film noir "Nightmare Alley" to rise to that level in a genre which wasn't exactly his forte'. Turning in what many consider his best performance, Tyrone Power went against his usual matinée idol typecast in the role of Stan Carlisle a low-rent carnival worker with blind ambition. Darryl Zanuck, the notorious head of Fox Studios, was reluctant to green-light the production, but he gave in and allowed a respectable budget with Edmund Golding directing. Zanuck somewhat mysteriously then did a "180" by resisting to market the film which withered on the vine in spite of decent critical acclaim, especially for Tyrone Power's performance. In his defense the film was considered extremely dark for the period; he exhibited the control a studio mogul wielded at the time to protect his larger interests. That wasn't particularly good for Tyrone Power, a still powerful draw who needed to stretch his range at this point, but neither was Zanuck's decision to not loan Power out for roles such as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind" in previous years. Ultimately, many of my generation (born in 1959) never got the chance to see Power's "left-turn" powerful performance until the late 90's when it began to turn up occasionally on cable. I guess this is either the example of a shrew studio dictator or a one with a touch of the same greed committed to celluloid here? The bottom line is as of 2005 the film is finally available on DVD and holds up well indeed. If you like film noir, especially a different flavor without the usual hard-boiled P.I., cops, and gangsters, this is for you. Nightmare is actually a good humanistic dark drama even if you're not a noir lover as it has a good story, uniformly excellent cast, very effective moody black and white cinematography (at this time most films of equal budgets were in color) within a well-funded production, and a director who knew how to make good films. I'd call it a "must see".
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