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Nightmare Alley (1947)

Cast: Tyrone Power, Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, more...
Director: Edmund Goulding, Edmund Goulding
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Rating: Not Rated
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre: Drama, Film Noir, Vintage Noir, Crime
Running Time: 111 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
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Recently Rented By themark

Nightmare Alley is the sordid tale of a conniving young man who, in the words of one of the film's supporting characters, ends up low because he aimed so high. Drifter Tyrone Power sweet-talks his way into a job as barker for a rundown carnival. He is fascinated by an illegal side-show attraction called "The Geek," a near-lunatic who bites the heads off live chickens and then is "paid off" with a cheap bottle of rotgut and a warm place to sleep it off. Otherwise, Power's attention is focussed on a beautiful if slightly stupid carnival performer (Coleen Gray) who works in an "electricity" act with an equally dense strongman (Mike Mazurki). Power also befriends an alcoholic mentalist (Ian Keith), who demonstrates how easy it is to fool an audience into thinking that his mind reading is genuine. When the mentalist dies after accidentally drinking wood alcohol, Power works his way into the confidence of the performer's widow (Joan Blondell), who teaches Power all the tricks and code words of the mind-reading racket. Power walks out on Blondell in favor of Cathy Downs, who marries him and becomes his partner in a classy nightclub mentalist act. But Power is dissatisfied with show business, and with the help of a beautiful but shifty psychiatrist (Helen Walker) he convinces several wealthy people that he can communicate with their dead loved ones...for a price. One elderly millionaire (Taylor Holmes) offers Power a fortune if he can conjure up the spirit of the millionaire's dead daughter. Power enlists his wife to impersonate the deceased girl, but at the crucial moment she has an attack of conscience and exposes the fraud. His career ruined, Power goes to the crooked psychiatrist for help, but she laughs in his face and calls the cops. He escapes the law by going on the bum, and before long is a drunken derelict. When he approaches a carnival for work, he is told that there is only one job a "geek." When asked if he wants the job, the defeated Power replies "Mister, I was born for it." Based on a lurid bestseller by William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley was Tyrone Power's attempt to break away from romantic leads in favor of roles with more substance. The picture wasn't a success, but it proved that Power was more than just a pretty face. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Odd, Unique, Riveting by randomcha March 5, 2006 - 4:39 AM PST
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful
Almost nothing in this film ends up exactly the way you think it will, but instead things always take a detour through the sordid and pathetic. Helen Walker is absolutely stunning as the shrewd, flinty psychiatrist; but Colleen Gray is nearly her equal. Tyrone Power goes through the full range of expression, from sensual hunk in the first scene to raving alcoholic at the end. The ending of the picture doesn't quite ring true for me, a little too hopeful, but it's a minor quibble. Lee Garmes' cinematography is ravishing; every shot is like heightened reality. An obscure film which ought to be better known.

Alley People, Poor and Rich by talltale December 18, 2005 - 12:47 PM PST
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Another classic that holds up nicely, while giving one of the most beautiful men in screen history--Tyrone Power--the chance to flex his acting chops, NIGHTMARE ALLEY fascinates on several levels. It tells an odd, intriguing story and tells it well. It's noir without pushing the shadows and lighting into extremes. It features the relatively rare homme fatale--a nice variation, and a break for the gals. It refuses to tie things up too neatly. And it offers a rather shocking version of the ubiquitous "shrink," one that presages the Peggie Castle role in Spillane's "I, the Jury."

Underrated director Edmund Goulding does a fine job of pulling thing together; only the pacing and long fades between scenes give this one away as an "oldie." In terms of style, plot, characterization, and subject matter (the blarney of carnival people and quasi-religious gurus, the human tendency toward hypocrisy and denial), this one was way ahead of its time. Still is. (And the black-and-white cinematography remains classy and gorgeous.)

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.61)
79 Votes
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Noir Themes & Sinister Schemes
Dark themed films of murder, scams, cons, gangsters, femme fatales and nefarious deeds.
Don't read the entire synopsis
Dark provocative movies that suffer and become almost unwatchable due to the excessive or misleading information provided in the movie description!

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