Review: Nightmare Alley

Tyrone Power wanted this book made into a movie and he wanted to star in it. This is Nightmare Alley and though it was not a huge success on its release in 1947, it is one of Power’s best performances and has become one of his most memorable. This film is based on a book by William Lindsay Gresham and directed by Edmund Goulding. Power stars as our main character Stan Carlisle.

This film is not your normal noir, it doesn’t take place in the dark streets of some big city at first, it takes place in the country at a carnival. The film starts with Power walking through a side-show tent, and is fascinated by the geek. A geek at this time frame in the carnival is somebody that bites the heads off of chickens. He then goes into the next tent where he changes into his carnival suit and starts working with the mind reading mystic. Our mystic is actually a team played by Joan Blondell as Zeena and Ian Keith as Pete. Pete is an alcoholic and a shadow of the man he used to be. The team used to be a big draw with a system of using Pete in the crowd telling Zeena in a code how to “read the minds” of the audience. We soon meet some of the others in the carnival like Mike Mazurki as the strong man and Coleen Gray as the beautiful assistant, Molly.

Soon Pete has an accident involving Stan and some bad alcohol, and he passes in his sleep. Stan sees his chance and talks Zeena into teaching him the code. Molly helps Stan learn the code and soon Stan and Zeena are doing the old show and drawing big crowds. A romance starts between Molly and Stan and the rest of the carnival talent soon finds out. They force Stan to marry Molly and they both leave the carnival. Stan and Molly start using the code and become a big hit in the city. Stan soon meets a psychologist, played by Helen Walker, and hatches a new con to take advantage of the cities rich.

This story is a very good noir as well as a psychological thriller. The film is something to be seeing by all noir fans or classic movie lovers. I have not seen a lot of movies with Power in them, but he is quite good in this film. I also really liked Gray in this, she is the opposite of a femme fatale in this film for sure. Walker is the femme fatale in this picture, and though she doesn’t have a lot of screen time, she definitely leaves her mark on this film. I also found ex-pro wrestler Mike Mazurki’s presence as the strong man fascinating. Find this film and watch it if you have not seen it yet!

Favorite Tidbit: According to Eddie Muller when he introduced this film on TCM, grifters using the mystic con would use the phrase “Are you a friend of Stan Carlisle?” to identify each other.