Nightmare Alley (1947)

nightmare alley poster 1947 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Carnival life, noire style

Clunky story

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Nightmare Alley

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  October 9, 1947 (Premiere)/October 28, 1947 (US)

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

nightmare alley tyrone power mystic great stanton nightclub act

All hail the Great Stanton!

Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) is a small-time crook with big dreams.  Working at the carnival, he finds himself interested in the mystic Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic partner Pete (Ian Keith) who helps her through a series of codes to fleece the viewers.  When Pete meets with tragedy, Stan finds suddenly married to a girl named Molly (Coleen Gray) and himself in a place to learn the craft…but the carnival is too small for Stan and teamed with a psychiatric named Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker) he hopes to become world renowned…but Lilith has plans of her own.

Directed by Edmund Goulding, Nightmare Alley is a noir thriller.  The film is based on the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham.  The film was considered a flop but found an audience over the years.  The novel had another adaptation in 2021 by Guillermo del Toro.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1078).

nightmare alley 1947 spirit ghost

The spirits walk

I didn’t really know much about Nightmare Alley besides the title when Guillermo del Toro released his version of the novel in 2021.  I didn’t love Nightmare Alley and felt it was too long plodding.  Going back to the first version, I found it a bit stronger and tighter.

The film is about the corruption of Stan Carlisle.  He uses people around him and he becomes what he claims he doesn’t want to be…both in the peak of his success and at the end of his “career”.  He has a woman with him that is supportive and concerned and he faces a cool and cold-hearted femme fatale.  He never is a good person, but his greed consumes him until he has little morals left.

Tyrone Power took the role to expand his acting repertoire.  His dark and brooding character has a past and is angry.  He rises quickly but fizzles out just as fast.  The movie suffers a bit from not having a very solid female lead.  I like the femme fatale Lilith Ritter, but she is introduced much later in the film.  The circus time is shared between the starry-eyed and nurturing Molly played by Coleen Gray and the more weathered Joan Blondell…and a role reversal by the end as the cycle repeats.

nightmare alley 1947 psychiatrist lilith ritter helen walker tyrone power

She’s got you

The movie is a noir movie and it dives deep into it.  The black-and-white film is deftly shot and looks good.  The highlight of the film has to be the attempt of Stanton to convince his target that his love has come back…and it seeps with atmosphere.  It is a classic looking movie, but it could have (like the Guillermo del Toro version) could played up the circus/carnival look more.

The problem with Nightmare Alley is that it feels so divided and while this movie is more concise and flows a bit better than Guillermo’s take, it still is problematic…though I think I liked it better.  If nothing else, it is a good movie if you are interested in carnival life and the people that inhabit the carnival…just don’t end up being the geek.

Related Links:

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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