Tyrone Power stars as Stanton Carlisle, a nobody working in a carnival who dreams of hitting the "big time". Stanton is having an affair with Zeena (Joan Blondell), whose drunk husband Pete is too out of it to notice...or care. Zeena and Pete perform a mindreading act via a special code they've worked out, but when Pete dies from a tragic accident (because of Stanton) Stanton becomes Zeena's partner in the mindreading act. Stanton feels guilty about Pete's death, however, and he also grows tired of Zeena's company, so he seduces the young and sexy Molly (Coleen Gray), who performs an "electrifying" act at the carnival while wearing close to nothing.
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!