Righteous district attorney Joseph Foster's main goal in life is to rid his city of the gangsters infesting it. In order to be even more efficient in his war against crime he plans to run for governor. One day he meets a strange, shadowy man, Nick Beal, who offers to help him to achieve his end. Beal convinces hesitating Foster by dint of easy money, easy sex with an alluring young woman and the promise of easy success. Joseph Foster soon becomes an influential politician but a corrupt one. A minister of God manages to show him that he has been the plaything of the so-called Nick Beal, who might be "Old Nick" , that is to say Satan himself. Foster then decides to resign and to become an honest man again. Written by
"The Screen Guild Theater" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on December 8, 1949 with Ray Milland reprising his film role. See more »
Yes brethren, every word is true. I've walked in the darkness, glory be. I've wrestled the Devil and thrown him. I've pinned his shoulders to the mat. Yes, I've pinned his shoulders to the mat.
I wonder if he knows it's two falls out of three?
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In this dark, half-forgotten gem, His Satanic Majesty delves into municipal politics
Rarely spotted on TV even by midweek insomniacs, brushed aside even by aficionados of the Hollywood past, Alias Nick Beal is a top-notch movie that puzzlingly languishes in limbo. It's an unusual but successful cross of the supernatural fantasy films popular in the forties like Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, The Devil and Daniel Webster with the grittier conflicts of the big-city exposés in film noir.
Thomas Mitchell, a progressive and muckraking mayor, won't rest easy until he eradicates corruption from his unnamed town. But incriminating ledgers detailing the graft of a rival political-machine boss have been burned. Mitchell gets a call asking for a mysterious meeting at a waterfront bar, The China Coast Café, where, like a wraith out of the harbor fogs, materializes Ray Milland. Ordering Barbados rum (with its voodooish connotations), he introduces himself as Nick Beal, which seems to be the short Americanization of Beelzebub. He offers Mitchell the pristine ledgers, from which the mayor can nail down a conviction and propel himself to the governor's mansion; trouble is, now he's stuck with the sinister Beal.
Unflappable in his suavity, Milland stays pitchfork-perfect in his scheme to strip Mitchell of his honesty and ideals. He enlists the help of bar floozie Audrey Totter, who turns herself into Mitchell's Gal Friday and diverts his affections from his wife (and conscience) Geraldine Wall. And every time Mitchell thinks he's compromised his principles for the last time or struck his final dirty bargain, in slithers Milland with another twist of the knife, a brand-new temptation. Finally elected to the statehouse, Mitchell finds that he's sold his soul to the very forces that he had always fought...
Alias Nick Beal has to be, hands down, the most sure-footed movie John Farrow ever directed; he never slips in sustaining its spectral look or precarious tone. Totter, too, excels in a part that tests her range, from a cat-fighter in a sleazy dive through efficient political aide to repentant cat's-paw. This may be her most fetching performance, particularly in her drunken exchange with a bartender: `What time is it?' `You just asked me that.' `I didn't ask you what I just asked you, I asked you what time it is.' Mitchell and Milland can't be faulted at the top of a cast that includes George Macready as a preacher who can't quite place Milland: `Have you ever had your portrait painted?' he gingerly inquires. `Yes by Rembrandt in 1655," comes the smug retort. (The screenplay is by Jonathan Latimer, who also penned The Glass Key, Nocturne, They Won't Believe Me, Night Has A Thousand Eyes, and The Big Clock.)
This morality tale about the seduction and fall of a promising politician echoes themes explored in the same year's All The King's Men but adds a fanciful metaphysical dimension. That may look like a cop-out, a way to avoid tackling the issues realistically, but the metaphysics can be seen as metaphorical Satan can be a symbol (and as Macready remarks, maybe he knows it's the twentieth century, too). Whatever one's take on The Spirit That Denies, the movie survives triumphantly on its own terms the splendid and satisfying Alias Nick Beal doesn't deserve the obscurity that has come to enshroud it.
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