Nightmare Alley (1947) (Bilingual)
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In this engaging melodrama, Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) is a lowlife working in a carnival. Knowing a good con when he sees one, he learns the tricks of a mind-reading act from Zeena (Joan Blondell), then tosses her aside. In time, he becomes The Great Stanton, star attraction of swanky nightclubs and the darling of society. But with all his notoriety built on lies, its only a matter of time before exposure brings Stantons world crashing down around him.
The long-awaited emergence of Nightmare Alley into the light of DVD should achieve two things: make a legendary film noir available to a new generation, and restore the horrific charge to the lately watered-down term geek, a concept that once had the power to give people very bad dreams indeed.
To his lasting credit, Tyrone Power--20th Century Fox's extraordinarily handsome but not terribly interesting star of the '30s and '40s--begged for the chance to play Stan Carlisle, the predatory charmer who snakes his way through this bracingly unwholesome story. A spieler for--and lover of--carnival mind reader Zeena (Joan Blondell), he displays uncanny skill at "reading" the susceptible rubes, including a tough sheriff who turns to jelly after Stan psychs him out. Once Stan's mastered the intricate code used in Zeena's act, he's set to dump her for the younger, sexier Molly (Coleen Gray) and go bigtime as nightclub psychic "Stanton the Great." After that, it's only a blasphemous bank shot to superstardom as a miracle worker with his own tabernacle and radio show.
Few '40s films ventured as deeply into cynicism as Nightmare Alley, or dealt so frankly with sexuality (with ripplings of polymorphous perversity yet) and power-tripping. The movie's rhythm is uncertain and Jules Furthman's screenplay telegraphs things, but the overall tone is remarkable, as are individual sequences: the freaky forced marriage of Stan and Molly in accordance with carny morality, and a creepy night scene in a park when Stanton the Great raises a ghost for a high-society client. Cinematographer Lee Garmes's chiaroscuro creates a relief map of the carnival world and what passes for life there. As for the geek... well, you'll find out what geek means. Stan does. --Richard T. Jameson
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Nightmare Alley has all the elements that you want to find in a great film noir: an anti-hero; dubious characters of questionable morals and motive; a dark ambience; and a lurid story. When you add the performance of Tyrone Power, who in all seriousness gives one of his best screen performances, and what you have is film noir magic.
What is intriguing to any film buff is the character that Tyrone Power plays. It is so atypical, that for anyone familiar with his work, it does take one aback somewhat. But this is an aspect of the film that makes it so special. Rarely does one get to see a film noir which leaves an unforgettable mark on one's memory. You may forget the story details with time, but not the experience.
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After Molly and Stanton give in to mutual lust, the carny people find out and force the two to marry. Accepting his fate bravely, Stanton and his new bride start touring the country with the same mindreading act that Zeena had taught him. Before long Stanton is known as "The Great Stanton" and his fame and fortune increase. After meeting the crafty psychiatrist Lilith (Helen Walker), Stanton comes up with his most ruthless plan yet: exploit wealthy men and women who've lost loved ones in the past by pretending to contact their dead lost loves or relatives. Stanton uses both his wife and Lilith in the scheme but it all comes crashing to an end when Molly breaks down and refuses to go on tormenting their naive "victims".
"The Great Stanton" is then reduced to hiding from the police after being betrayed by Lilith. He sends Molly back to the carnival where they first met while he begins a downward spiral made worse by alcoholism. Eventually he sinks even lower than Pete had and he gets hired by the carnival to play the "geek", an animal-like creature that bites the heads off chickens. Stanton finally loses control of himself and Molly discovers that her once great husband is now a raving psycho. "Nightmare Alley" was Tyrone Power's best performance and it was also one of the darkest noirs ever made (probably why it wasn't very successful in 1947). Power fought hard to get the role of Stanton Carlisle, and although Stanton was the flawed anti-hero you couldn't help but pity him, especially towards the end.
It's a good thing that Fox finally released this underated and neglected gem on dvd, because despite it's reputation as a cult classic I doubt if many movie buffs have been able to see it until now. The picture quality isn't perfect but is more than acceptable and the sound is great. Bonus features for "Nightmare Alley" include commentary from film noir historians James Ursini and Alain Silver as well as the original theatrical trailer. This classic noir has an outstanding cast, fine script, haunting music, and incredible cinematography and is sure to please any film noir buff. Highly recommended!
Nightmare Alley is a twisted ride from the start in its depiction of the ugly side of carnival life. This movie is, hands down, Tyrone Power's finest hour in his acting career! He plays a heel with gritty realism as his character embarks upon his rise and fall, using everyone to further his own ambitions. His ambiguous performance leaves us sometimes sympathetic and sometimes with disgust.
And what an amazing supporting cast!! Joan Blondell plays a more evolved rendition of her 30's tough-mouthed, strong-shouldered, cynically-witted dames, and gives a very rounded performance. She has a dangerous edge despite her on-the-surface saintly devotion to her husband in the film. Joan's acting in this film is undeniably great, and worthy of recognition.
But my favorite performance in the film is that of Helen Walker, who also gives her finest and most memorable performance out of the many fine roles she's played in other significant film noirs. Her acting in the movie is wickedly fierce as she gives new meaning to the term 'femme fatale'.
Aside from the acting, the black and white cinematography is brilliant, and it has a perversely modern feel to it! And to say anything else would be to say too much! See for yourself.
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