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Nightmare Alley (1947)
Nightmare Alley (1947) is a 20th Century Fox film noir starring Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell, and directed by Edmund Goulding. The movie rights for the 1946 novel of the same name, written by William Lindsay Gresham, were bought by Power, who planned on starring in the film. Power wanted to expand his limited range, playing romantic swashbuckler types, by taking the unsavory lead, "The Great Stanton". It premiered in the US on October 9, 1947, then met with wide release on October 28, 1947, later having six more European releases between November 1947 to May 1954. To make the film more believable, the producers built a full working carnival on ten acres (40,000 m²) of the 20th Century Fox back lot. They also hired over 100 sideshow attractions and carnival people to add further authenticity. The movie follows the rise and fall of a con man — a story that begins and ends at a seedy traveling carnival. Stanton "Stan" Carlisle (Tyrone Power) joins the carnival, working with "Mademoiselle Zeena" (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband, Pete (Ian Keith).
A pet project of Tyrone Power, this film gives us Power in probably his greatest role ever. He starts off as a standard-grade con man, then works his way into the carnival as an aide to the mentalist (Joan Blondell in a solid mid-career role). Power's Stanton woos the 'electric girl' (the hauntingly beautiful Coleen Gray), and together they eventually launch a mentalist act of their own, playing in black-tie nightclubs and landing radio spots and more. But when a psychiatrist (Helen Walker, the 'bad dame' of the film) tempts him into scamming wealthy tycoons with visions of loved ones from the beyond, Stanton winds up in deep shit. His eventual return to the carnival is one of cinema's most poetic, ironic, and heart-rending moments.
Throughout the film, Power is on fire, and each of the three femmes in the film work as strong seconds to Power's acting. He actually seems to get better as the film goes on, and one of his last (coherent) lines in the film 'I was born for it...' is something that will haunt you for days.
Director Edmund Goulding (Dark Victory) made few films of this intensity during his long career, and oddly it has become his best-known work. That's for good reason. While Nightmare Alley (the title, to my knowledge, is never really explained) is considerably too long, it still manages to hold our interest through a marathon second act, delivering us -- just in time -- to one of cinema's most devastating finales ever.
The DVD includes a historian's commentary track.