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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ray Milland managed to do something that few critics were ever willing
to admire him for. He was a good looking man of Welsh (not English)
ancestry, who could play members of the English upper class. But he was
always willing to stretch a bit more than other similar actors. For one
thing, he could play villains. Even in his early career he was
frequently cast as a weakling or a gigolo (as in "We're Not Dressing").
He was willing to experiment with comic roles as well as straight
drama. The result was that from 1942 to 1951 or so Milland was a
Hollywood star. He played the leads in films as various as "Reap the
Wild Wind", "The Major and the Minor", "The Ministry of Fear", "The Big
Clock", "The Lost Weekend", "Golden Earings", and "Alias Nick Beal".
While some of his films were comedies (such as "The Major and the
Minor" and "Skylark") quite a number were dramas or even melodramas.
And some of his characters skirt the edge of acceptable behavior. He is
a man who has just been released for committing a mercy killing of his
wife in "The Ministry of Fear". Although he is basically innocent, he
is a flirtatious type in "The Big Clock". Even in Wilder's "The Major
and The Minor" there is a moment when Milland, smiling at the thought
of what a real "knockout" "Sue-sue Applegate" (actually grown-up Ginger
Rogers) is, suddenly gets a really pained look in his face - he does
not like that he's thinking lascivious thoughts about a child.
His deserved "Oscar" for "The Lost Weekend" is another example of this dark side - he is supposed to be a writer, but he is a poseur with a serious drinking problem. In fact, he contemplates suicide at the conclusion of the film, only to be stopped by Jane Wyman.
In "Alias Nick Beal" he played his most sinister part (except possibly Tony Wendice in "Dial "M" For Murder"). Here he played Satan, and he is in total control of the game throughout of the movie - the game being politics and power over people. On one level, if one forgets the supernatural elements, "Alias Nick Beal" is as good an abject lesson in the back room deals of American politics as the comedies "The Senator Was Indiscreet" or Preston Sturges' "The Great McGinty". Only here, with violent death thrown in, the seediness of it all becomes more apparent. Possibly the best moment is when the honest, and mostly honorable, Thomas Mitchell is forced to shake hands with Fred Clark, the most notorious political boss in the state. On the other level is the serious attempt to keep some religious allegory in, with people like George Macready (here in a rare good guy part) noting that Beal resembles an ancient picture of the Devil, and that "Los islas de las almas perditas" where Beal comes from means, "The Island of Lost Souls". Religion does play a crucial role in the film, including it's completion.
Leslie Halliwell made the observation that after this film none of the stars ever did as well again. This is not true. Milland did play the evil Tony Wendice, and Macready went on to the mad French general in "Paths of Glory". But more important, Milland kept showing his ability to stretch in the remaining decades of his life. Besides writing his interesting autobiography "Wide Eyed in Babylon", he directed several films, he appeared in several televisions series (one of the few stars who did not fear the new medium - and he was rewarded here too, for in the 1970s and 1980s he was still appearing while many contemporaries retired). Finally he capped his career as the snobbish father in "Love Story". Actually his career is an example of just what can be accomplished if a person is not ashamed to jettison useless or outdated personalities for new ones.
A rare film-strange considering its many virtues.Ray Milland is perfect as cool diabolical devil in disguise Nick Beal.Thomas Mitchell is a modern Faust who accepts evil methods as a means of becoming Governor (ironically to do good deeds when in office!)Audrey Totter plays an archetypal 40's "dame" splendidly-tough,sexy with pretty elastic principles,but with a conscience under the varnish.This movie is full of great scenes -director John Farrow always gets it just right-I don't think he ever reached these heights again-watch the moment in the apartment where Donna realizes with horror that both she and Foster are saying exactly the words Beal said they would,and the scene where Beal surprises Donna at the station by sliding the cigarette case down the bar.The only real minus for some audiences today is the "studiobound" production,though for me this enhances the claustrophobic "noir" atmosphere of the film.The splendid Franz Waxman score nicely complements the action.
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.
Forget Double Indemnity - for me, this is the quintessential film noir.
Milland was never better, and all the cast are on top form. The editing's
great, and there's not a wasted shot. Some say the ending's a cop out (see
other comments for plot details), but it's hard to see how else it could
have been done without compromising both the essence, and flavour, of the
I last saw this classic on TV about 15 years ago, and as far as I know it's never been either repeated, or released on video or DVD. WHY???
If anyone out there's got a recording they'd be willing to copy for me I'd love to hear from them. Maybe we can trade. Thanks.
Nick Beal (not his real name) has a haunting way of whistling in the fog, in which he seems at home. It's a symbol of the mystery of the man, which softly, like the fog itself, reveals itself to us. There are absorbing scenes involving Ray Milland's interplays with George Macready, Thomas Mitchell and Audrey Totter, and there is Franz Waxman's soundtrack score, all contributing to the mood of apprehension which prevails throughout in this quiet study of power. Anything said further here would reveal what we soon learn of .... well, of the man who whistles. Highly recommended.
I had long wanted to check out this modern Americanization of the
"Faust" legend and, at the same time, wondered at its apparent neglect
over the years. Having done so now, I am honestly baffled by this as
the film is superb in every respect keeping also in mind that there
are at least three other classic cinematic versions of its prototype
i.e. F.W. Murnau's Silent FAUST (1926; which retains the original
setting and period), William Dieterle's THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER
aka ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY (1941; superbly rendered in terms of
Americana http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033532/usercomments-20) and
Rene' Clair's LA BEAUTE' DU DIABLE (1950; with the narrative, of
course, re-set to France
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0042235/usercomments-4). By the way, I
purposely picked my birthday (17th August) to catch up with ALIAS NICK
BEAL since I was to watch yet another variation on the theme
HAMMERSMITH IS OUT (1972), starring Richard Burton anyway, as part of
my ongoing tribute to that renowned thespian on the 25th anniversary of
his passing! To begin with, the acting is impeccable: Ray Milland, at
once charming and sinister in the title role who, not only has the
penchant of never being seen entering or exiting a room but just
suddenly be there Mrs. Danvers-style, but is also so evil that he
threatens to blackmail the Faust character here soon after having
opened the road to success for him!; Thomas Mitchell, reliable but at
the same time a symbol of integrity, is actually the one to take the
spotlight throughout; and Audrey Totter, the tramp with ambitions above
her station who eventually reforms thanks to her proverbial heart of
but we also get George Macready and Fred Clark effectively cast
against type as reverend and racketeer respectively! The eerie
supernatural elements, then, are remarkably rendered without the use of
special effects (complemented by noir-ish cinematography and an
emphatic score). Among the most memorable moments we find Milland
afraid of being touched and even more so of the Holy Scriptures
(reprised in the film's splendid climax); the uncanny chat between
Totter and Mitchell 'rehearsed' verbatim beforehand with Milland
(incidentally, the blooming relationship between Mitchell and Totter is
subtly mirrored in the scenes depicting Mitchell's growing estrangement
from his wife); and Totter's drunken exchange with a bartender before
she is picked up by Milland. The political element within the film is
more of the idealistic Frank Capra variety (of which Mitchell himself
was a stock performer) than the 'mature' level of the contemporaneous
ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949) although, watching this, I was immediately
reminded of Raoul Walsh's James Cagney vehicle A LION IS IN THE STREETS
(1953) which I only caught last month (in a retrospective of that
star's work honoring the 110th anniversary of his birth). In
conclusion, I would like to point out that director Farrow was an
underrated film-maker from Hollywood's Golden Age and this is
undoubtedly his most accomplished effort.
P.S. Watching the not dissimilar THE SOUL OF A MONSTER (1944) also with Macready as part of the Halloween challenge, I was inspired to finally complete my review of this film
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ray Milland attempts to tempt Thomas Mitchell, a crusading politician. First Milland gets the goods on a crook Mitchell was trying to get into office, then he helps Mitchell reach for the governor's office. Will Mitchell be able to break free? Milland is perfectly cast as the cocky, seemingly all knowing Beal. From the minute from he steps on screen it's clear he's up to something and Milland milks it for all its worth. I came into the film unaware of who Beal was and it really added to the proceedings since I couldn't be sure if this was the sort of film I thought it was. Even once I realized that yes he really is the devil I couldn't believe it since the role is so well written and the film is so well done that its implication rather than overt explanation (until the end and even that is low key). A solid morality tale excellently acted by a great cast. It's one of Ray Milland's best roles. Worth searching out.
Alias Nick Beal (AKA: A few other titles...) is directed by John Farrow
and adapted to screenplay by Jonathan Latimer from the Mindret Lord
story. It stars Ray Milland, Audrey Totter, Thomas Mitchell and George
Macready. Music is by Franz Waxman and cinematography by Lionel Lindon.
It's the Faustian legend filmed through film noir filters as Thomas Mitchell's politician unwittingly makes a deal with Ray Milland's suspicious Nick Beal.
Nicholas Beal - Agent.
It's all fogs, smogs and smoky pubs here, it's 1949 and John Farrow and his team are having a great time of things blending Faust with politico machinations. Narrative thrust comes by way of corruption and character disintegration, sprinkled naturally with your good old cinematic staple of good versus evil in bold type.
Don't touch him! He doesn't like it!
Milland is superb here, his Nick Beal is the ultimate Machiavellian Mannipulator, and the chief film makers really bring these traits to the fore. Beal is a bundle of smug grins and glinting eyes, he just appears in scenes, Farrow cunningly using various props and persons to suddenly unleash his little old devil when he is least expected. Around Nicky there are subtle changes of clothes and snatches of dialogue that hit the requisite devilish notes, Totter is our darling who is caught in Old Nick's trap, Mitchell (great) even more so.
The last time I was here was quite exciting. City was on fire. Picked up quite a lot of recruits that night. Made quite a transportation problem.
Lionel Lindon and Franz Waxman are also key components to what makes the pic work. Waxman (Sunset Blvd.) deftly shifts between big bass drums for thunder clap effects, to delicate swirls that give off other worldly - eerie - effects. Lindon (I Want to Live!) does great work isolating the eyes in light, while his fog and shadows work wouldn't be amiss in a Val Lewton picture.
This is a criminally under seen movie, it's far from perfect because the collage of genre influences give it a very unbalanced feel, but there's so much fun, spookiness and technical craft on show to make it a must see movie for fans of the stars, noir and supernatural tinged pictures. 8/10
The Faust legend gets yet another retelling in modern post war America
with Thomas Mitchell as an honest District Attorney looking for
evidence to convict a racketeer. A conviction in this case will propel
him to higher office.
Into the story walks a gentleman named Nicholas Beal played with intensity by Ray Milland. The account books supposedly destroyed Milland says he can produce and produce them he does. Of course Mitchell is grateful and Milland becomes part of his inner circle.
With Mitchell now being talked about for the governorship, Milland incurs the mistrust of all around him including Mitchell's wife Geraldine Wall and the Reverend George MacReady. MacReady who himself has played many a sinister character on the big and small screen knows sinister when he sees it. In fact he's the first to recognize Milland for what he is.
When a man's influence doesn't work Milland plants Audrey Totter in Mitchell's circle. This is a whole lot like the way Ray Walston used Gwen Verdon to get at Tab Hunter in Damn Yankees. Only this is far more serious.
Ray Milland who before The Lost Weekend played all kinds of light parts was now getting heavier dramatic fare in his career and handling it most successfully. He's probably at his most menacing on the screen in Alias Nick Beal.
As for Mitchell for once he didn't die on the screen. Years ago I had a teacher who said that Thomas Mitchell had to have the record for screen deaths in major motion pictures. Although I can think of a few in addition to this one like Stagecoach and It's A Wonderful Life where he lived until the final end credits, I think the man that taught me might have had something. Mitchell is fine as a man desperately trying to do the right thing and having to contend with his own ambitions at the same time.
Paramount normally did not go in for noir films, but in this case they produced one with classic satanic overtones. In the end Milland makes a rather interesting confession as the film ends. It explains his attitude and his character.
I'd make it a point to check it out.
Thomas Mitchell (Foster) wants to run for Governor and rid the town of
corruption, but corrupt Fred Clark (Faulkner) stands in his way. Enter
Ray Milland (Nick Beal). Milland can offer Mitchell what he needs to
Tony Blair's PR spin-doctor Alastair Campbell is obviously the inspiration for this film. Milland plays the role of domineering adviser to Thomas Mitchell, and Milland gets his way. The cast are all good in this film, with fallen girl Audrey Totter (Donna) getting a special mention she is funny, intuitive and tragic all at the same time. I thought the film was a bit talky at the beginning but it does seem necessary in order to set the scene. And there certainly is an air of mystery when Milland appears. There are various good scenes, my favourite being when Totter ends up speaking the dialogue that she has just rehearsed with Milland. At first she dismisses Milland for talking nonsense, but there comes a moment when she is with Mitchell and she realizes what is happening. Some of the rehearsed dialogue did not make sense to her when first repeated. But it all fits now. It's well acted and directed and it's the most memorably chilling moment for me. Good direction, effective camera shots and a good music score round out the other film highlights.
So, if you fancy running for any kind of position of power in the political arena, just remember to carry a bible with you ..or there may be trouble.
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