HOME |  JOIN |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
Newest Reviews
All the Money in the World
Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, The
Black Panther
Children's Hour, The
Mayhem
Sphere
Guyver, The
Night School
Loveless
Ragtime
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
Murders in the Rue Morgue
Wound, The
Scalawag
Let's Get Harry
Girl with Green Eyes
Sunchaser, The
Tom Jones
Downsizing
Defiant Ones, The
Centerfold Girls, The
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The
120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Police Academy 3: Back in Training
Safe Place, A
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Cargo
Entertainer, The
Wing Commander
Look Back in Anger
   
 
Newest Articles
A Yen for the 1990s: Iron Monkey and Satan Returns
Hey, Punk: Jubilee and Rock 'n' Roll High School
Help! with The Knack: Richard Lester in 1965
Roll Up, Get Yer Free Cinema: The Shorts on the BFI Woodfall Blu-rays
Time for Heroes: The Dam Busters and How I Won the War
Hell is a City: Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver
Boris Goes Bonkers, Bela Goes Bats: The Old Dark House and Mark of the Vampire
Charles Bronson's Mid-70s: Breakheart Pass and Others
Kids in America: The Breakfast Club vs Metropolitan
80s Dance-Off: Staying Alive vs Murder-Rock vs Breakin'
The Cinematic Darkside of Donald Crowhurst
Dutch Courage: The Flodder Series
Coming of Age: Boys on Film 18 - Heroes on DVD
Country and Irish - The secret history of Irish pop culture
Wash All This Scum Off the Streets: Vigilante Movies
   
 
  Nightmare Alley Geek LoveBuy this film here.
Year: 1947
Director: Edmund Goulding
Stars: Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Taylor Holmes, Mike Mazurki, Ian Keith
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) works in a carnival, and compared to the jobs he's had before this beats them all as he feels so superior to the crowds who attend them, because he knows more tricks of the trade than the public ever will. He helps the fortune teller, Zeena (Joan Blondell), with her act in rounding up the suckers to have their questions answered, with them not knowing she has a system where her alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith) hides and writes out the answers for her, and Stan thinks this is great. Just one thing bothers him: this carnival has a sideshow geek...

How can one man sink so low? A carnival geek was in those days not someone with an interest in the minutiae of science fiction, but a form of freak whose speciality was biting the heads off chickens, generally regarded as the most sickening occupation that the whole world of the carnival would look down on, but nevertheless held a fascination with the public, the same sort which worries at Stan's nerves in spite of his confidence otherwise. Nightmare Alley was based on one of the most notorious dime store novels of the forties, penned by William Lindsay Gresham (Debra Winger played his estranged wife in Shadowlands), which became a pet project for both Power and director Edmund Goulding only to falter at the box office.

Perhaps fittingly for a film which dealt with such despair, it went on to be a sad reminder for both men where their careers could have gone if they'd had more of a success with it, rather than the career aberration which it was in the minds of the studios and the audiences who expected from Power in particular a lot easier watch. He did say it was his favourite role, and if nothing else set the template for stars considered to be coasting on their good looks who in a moment of ambition decided to prove their acting credentials instead of their simple, unchallenging screen charisma. This was a trick that became easier to pull off in later years than it was in 1947 when this came out, but to be fair Nightmare Alley was far more bleak than even the average film noir of the day would attempt.

In fact, in some scenes we seem to be hurtling over the brink of drama and into outright horror, so if Goulding never quite made that leap it's something that preys on the mind as you watch it: questions such as "Are we really going to see someone bite a head off a chicken?" definitely arise. Not that Stan stays in the carny setting for the whole movie, as he has ideas to take the mind reading act to scale the cliff face of stardom - and just as it's a long slog up, there's a quick way down. After using his charm to learn Zeena's tricks, he establishes a classy psychic act with carnival showgirl Molly, who he was tricked into marrying after he stole her affections from strongman Mike Mazurki. She was played by Coleen Gray, a cult actress whose following stemmed from her beauty and aura of near-spiritual purity; true to form she is the only person able to redeem Stan.

But that might not count for much when everyone else is so damaged, yearning for some kind of break or mourning that their big chance either slipped through their fingers or never crossed their paths at all. The difference between the crowds Stan starts playing to and the ones he earns a fortune with is money, sure, those rich folks at the nightclubs are more polite, but they still have that emptiness inside which makes them susceptible to his cynical fakery. It's this pitch black tone of desperation which makes you understand why Nightmare Alley never really caught on, even today when its reputation is higher than it's ever been: it tells you that you're superstitious to believe in anything that might offer succour, and that includes superstition, psychiatry and plain old love of money. Only Molly offers a sop to the morals of the day in that her love might be able to pull Stan back from the hell he ends up in, but then, we've seen Zeena and Pete. If anything, Goulding could have gone further, yet the shadows haunting the screen told you all you needed to know. Music by Cyril Mockridge.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

This review has been viewed 1166 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

 
Review Comments (0)


Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Which film has the best theme song?
Spectre
The Ups and Downs of a Handyman
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
Enoch Sneed
Paul Smith
  Jamie Nichols
Andrew Pragasam
George White
Darren Jones
  Butch Elliot
   

 

Last Updated: