- Actors: Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes
- Directors: Edmund Goulding
- Writers: Jules Furthman, William Lindsay Gresham
- Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, George Jessel
- Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Dubbed: English
- Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
- Number of discs: 1
- MPAA Rating:
- Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
- Release Date: June 7 2005
- Run Time: 110 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- ASIN: B0007ZEO8C
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #33,800 in Movies & TV Shows (See Top 100 in Movies & TV Shows)
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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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The film of "Nightmare Alley" went through a similar cycle. It came out in 1947 with fanfare, a large budget, famous actors, and so-so reviews. The film fell into obscurity, was unavailable for many years, and then was revived at about the same time as Gresham's novel. It now has the deserved status of a classic of film noir. I read and reviewed the book in 2012 but have just seen the film for the first time.
Directed by Edmund Golding, "Nightmare Alley" starred Tyrone Power as the carny and fake spiritualist Stanton Carlisle. Power was looking to expand his roles, and he did. The film features strong roles and performances from three different women, two of whom Stanton used and one of whom used him. Joan Blondell played a middle-age medium, Zeena, who worked for the carnival after having much better days in Vaudeville. Stanton takes advantage of her to learn the spiritualist game and subsequently plays it to the hilt. Colleen Gray plays Stanton's wife, Molly. She began as a carnival stripper and "electric girl" who supposedly takes jolts of electricity and emerges unscathed. Helen Walker plays Lilith Ritter, a Freudian therapist, femme fatale, and villain who finally beats Stanton at his own game.
The strongest scenes are those of the nature of carnival sideshow life at the beginning and end of the movie. The young, ill-educated, and ambitious Stanton rises from a sleight of hand performer to Zeena's assistant to become a gifted quack spiritualist on his own. In the process, he causes the death of Zeena's alcoholic husband, which in the film appears to be accidental. Stanton rises to the world of Chicago nightclub and then begins to prey on the gullible and guilty rich where he almost succeeds. With his failure and growing alcoholism, Stanton returns to the carnival where he gets a job as the "geek" - the lowest of the low in the sideshow hierarchy. (Even as I wrote this review, I received an email offering me the opportunity to meet up with fellow "geeks" -- the meaning of the word has changed radically since the 1940s).
"Nightmare Alley" was a shocking film for its day and still can be disturbing to see. The film was softened slightly from Gresham's book. Both the film and the book can be viewed as a story of the poor and uneducated pursuing the dream of material success with vicious results. In his book, "The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir", film scholar Foster Hirsch describes Stanton's rise and fall as a "pop version of the Faust legend". (p. 193) Hirsch writes (Id.) that Stanton is a "down-and-out opportunist who fakes mental powers in order to fleece millionaires. Trying to control others, he is himself controlled by a nagging sense of guilt that gradually overwhelms him. Descending lower and lower in self-esteem, he ends up a geek in a circus, his mad quest for control having removed him from any connections to the normal world."
I enjoyed reading Gresham's book a few years ago, and I particularly enjoyed thinking about it again and seeing this film version of "Nightmare Alley". The film is now readily and reasonably accessible. It is a must-see for those interested in noir film and noir literature.
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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