Nightmare Alley (1947)

Nightmare Alley Poster

Stanton Carlisle joins a seedy carnival, working with "Mademoiselle Zeena" and her alcoholic husband, Pete.

Title: Nightmare Alley (1947)

"Nightmare Alley" is a noir movie, directed by Edmund Goulding and launched in 1947. Based upon the 1946 book by William Lindsay Gresham, the film includes Tyrone Power, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, and Joan Blondell in primary roles.

The movie follows the ambitious and unethical story of Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), a carnival worker. He begins as an assistant to Zeena (Joan Blondell), a supposed mentalist able to foresee the future. When her drunken partner Pete dies tragically after a mix-up of alcohol bottles, Stan handles to discover a special code language from Zeena that she utilized in her acts.

Increase to Fame:
Stan's ambitions drive him to leave the carnivals and with his partner Molly (Coleen Gray), establish a mentalist pattern in the city, utilizing Zeena's secret code language which he describes as a mind-reading technique. He dubs himself as 'The Great Stanton' effectively manipulating people's psychology to encourage them he knows everything about their past and can predict the future.

Fall from Grace:
Stan's success attracts the suspicious psychoanalyst, Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker). Interested by Stan's act, Lilith sets out to expose him. Her preliminary suspicion modifications when Stan handles to surprisingly 'forecast' a covert catastrophe from her past. Stan's hubris grows and he attempts to con rich, unsuspecting customers by assuring to interact with their dead enjoyed ones, a scheme he plans with Lilith. However, Lilith masterfully turns the tables on him, recording his strategy and revealing the rip-off. She leaves him broke and ethically beat.

Devastated and stripped of his ill-earned wealth, Stan spirals down into alcohol addiction and ends up back in the carnival, however this time as a 'geek' (the term for a wild male or man-beast in the carnival world), which was as soon as his biggest fear and the most affordable rung of the showbiz ladder. In this ignoble and pitiful state, he is stunned when Molly arrives, still devoted and all set to nurse him back to health.

Cinematic Style and Themes:
Edmund Goulding's direction effectively shows the movie's themes of aspiration, manipulation, and ultimate moral retribution. The dark world of the taking a trip carnival is contrasted with the opulence of upper class, highlighting the style of the deceptive nature of appearances. The cinematography, use of shadows and lighting, echo the movie's noir perceptiveness. Power's performance as Stan Carlisle is considered one of his best, showcasing his variety as an actor.

"Nightmare Alley" is an exemplar of movie noir, diving headfirst into the seedier side of society and human nature, revealing a dark point of view on aspiration and deceptiveness. This classic movie, showcasing enthusiastic abuse of power coming down into disgrace and misery, has its long-lasting popularity evidenced by a 2021 remake directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

Top Cast

  • Tyrone Power (small)
    Tyrone Power
    Stanton 'Stan' Carlisle
  • Helen Walker (small)
    Helen Walker
    Lilith Ritter
  • Coleen Gray (small)
    Coleen Gray
    Molly Carlisle
  • Joan Blondell (small)
    Joan Blondell
    Zeena Krumbein
  • Taylor Holmes (small)
    Taylor Holmes
    Ezra Grindle
  • Mike Mazurki (small)
    Mike Mazurki
  • Ian Keith (small)
    Ian Keith
    Pete Krumbein
  • Roy Roberts (small)
    Roy Roberts
    McGraw - Final Carnival Owner (uncredited)
  • Florence Auer (small)
    Florence Auer
    Jane (uncredited)
  • Bonnie Bannon
    Knife Thrower's Assistant (uncredited)
  • George Beranger (small)
    George Beranger
    The Geek (uncredited)