- Theatrical trailer
Nightmare Alley (Fox Film Noir)
Frequently bought together
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
A sideshow barker goes from mind reader to society spiritualist, then to carnival geek.
The long-awaited emergence of Nightmare Alley into the light of DVD should achieve two things: make a legendary film noir available to a new generation, and restore the horrific charge to the lately watered-down term geek, a concept that once had the power to give people very bad dreams indeed.
To his lasting credit, Tyrone Power--20th Century Fox's extraordinarily handsome but not terribly interesting star of the '30s and '40s--begged for the chance to play Stan Carlisle, the predatory charmer who snakes his way through this bracingly unwholesome story. A spieler for--and lover of--carnival mind reader Zeena (Joan Blondell), he displays uncanny skill at "reading" the susceptible rubes, including a tough sheriff who turns to jelly after Stan psychs him out. Once Stan's mastered the intricate code used in Zeena's act, he's set to dump her for the younger, sexier Molly (Coleen Gray) and go bigtime as nightclub psychic "Stanton the Great." After that, it's only a blasphemous bank shot to superstardom as a miracle worker with his own tabernacle and radio show.
Few '40s films ventured as deeply into cynicism as Nightmare Alley, or dealt so frankly with sexuality (with ripplings of polymorphous perversity yet) and power-tripping. The movie's rhythm is uncertain and Jules Furthman's screenplay telegraphs things, but the overall tone is remarkable, as are individual sequences: the freaky forced marriage of Stan and Molly in accordance with carny morality, and a creepy night scene in a park when Stanton the Great raises a ghost for a high-society client. Cinematographer Lee Garmes's chiaroscuro creates a relief map of the carnival world and what passes for life there. As for the geek... well, you'll find out what geek means. Stan does. --Richard T. Jameson
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top customer reviews
The last sentence of dialogue said it all, "How did he fall so low? He reached too high".
"Nightmare Alley" benefits from being set in a very specific environment -that of the carny- and the film retains the insider perspective of the book. The carny is a perfect setting for a "noir" tale, since fantasy and reality are indistinct and scams are the name of the game. In true noir fashion, when the outside world is compared to the carny, it turns out to be the same. This was one of Tyrone Powers' brief attempts to get away from romantic leading roles and take on characters with more depth. He's terrific as Stanton Carlisle, but audiences preferred him in heroic roles, which hurt "Nightmare Alley" at the box office. Helen Walker is chilling as psychologist Lilith Ritter, whose desire to make a buck outweighs her commitment to doctor-patient confidentiality, to say the least. Lilith Ritter is the embodiment of the 1940s femme fatale: a shrewd, ruthless, sexually aggressive, professional woman without a scrap of scruples. Her big scene is really quite frightening. Colleen Gray's Molly is bright too, but of the opposite temperament. Her friendly, optimistic manner sometimes hide her savvy.
"Nightmare Alley"'s attitude toward clairvoyance is ambiguous. On one hand, it explicitly demonstrates that mentalists and spiritualists are shams. On the other hand, it imbues tarot cards with real wisdom, and some critics argue that Stanton has real gifts underneath the fakery. Stanton Carlisle dismisses the tarot cards as nonsense, but at the same time he seems to believe them and to consciously challenge fate. Lee Garmes' cinematography and low-key lighting are beautiful. It's surprising how often the actors' faces are in shadow. "Nightmare Alley" has a measured, slow pace, with dialogue that is delivered more slowly than was common in films of the 1940s. That grated on my nerves a bit, as did the neatly circular structure of the story, which seems contrived. But "Nightmare Alley" is a beautiful, dark film with a talented cast, including striking performances from Tyrone Power and Helen Walker.
The DVD (Fox Home Entertainment 2005): This print is not restored and suffers from small specks and lines, but no major flaws. The tonality looks good. Bonus features include a theatrical trailer (2 ½ minutes) and an audio commentary by film noir historians Alain Silver and James Ursini. It's a good commentary, without many lulls, that focuses primarily on characters and themes. Subtitles for the film are available in English and Spanish.
The picture quality of the blu ray is just OK, not as good as the dvds. Also, I was unable to turn off the Spanish subtitles although I may have missed the key for this. Also, the aspect ratio was not the same as the dvds. The best copy to get (with great commentary) is the M of C British dvd, which seems to be out of print, but still available from private sellers.