“It gives you a sort of superior feeling — it’s as if you were in the know, and they were on the outside, looking in…”
An ambitious carnival worker (Tyrone Power) uses trickery and psychology to convince audiences he’s telepathic, and soon he and his beautiful young wife (Coleen Gray) have a successful nightclub act together. But when Power collaborates with an immoral psychiatrist (Helen Walker) in convincing wealthy citizens he can talk with the dead, his thirst for power comes to a head.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Tyrone Power gave what is widely regarded as his best performance in this memorable, well-acted tale of greed and betrayal in the carnival racket. As noted by Peary, “No [‘A’] picture of the forties projected a more corrosive atmosphere. … What other picture of the time … had geeks, dipsomaniacs, premarital sex in which the woman doesn’t become pregnant, and discussion of God?” Director Edmund Goulding portrays a truly “miserable world”, one “which mirrors the country’s post-war malaise,” and depicts “sorry people… who are deeply depressed, lonely, [and] devoid of spirit.” Despite its unconventional setting, Alley is in many ways classic noir cinema, given the presence of a love triangle (Powers, Blondell, Gray), a cagey femme fatale (Walker), and highly atmospheric b&w cinematography; indeed, Powers’ downward spiral is similar to those of every male noir protagonist who aims too high and (wrongly) thinks he can have it all. Balance is eventually restored, but not without plenty of devastation along the way. Dark, gritty, and compulsively watchable, Nightmare Alley remains must-see viewing for all film fanatics.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Tyrone Powers as Stan
- Joan Blondell as Zeena
- Colleen Gray as Molly
- Helen Walker as Lilith
- An effectively harsh portrait of big dreams turned sour
- Gray demonstrating her act as “Lightning Woman”
- Lee Garmes’ haunting b&w cinematography
Yes. This film is widely regarded as a classic noir thriller, and should be seen by all film fanatics. Peary nominates it for an Alternate Oscar as one of the best pictures of the year. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies 2 (1983).