- Nightmare Alley was as well known for being taken out of circulation for a long time (and being difficult for cinephiles to locate) as anything else. It was largely unavailable for most of the second half of the twentieth century and not exactly easy to track down until very recently either.
- Director Edmund Goulding is best known for Grand Hotel (1932) but this is his best little stretch of work here post World War II with The Razor’s Edge in 1946 and Nightmare Alley in 1947. Both The Razor’s Edge and Nightmare Alley feature Tyrone Power- better known as a handsome Hollywood star than a great actor.
- The story is based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel- one about manipulation and power. It is set in the seedy carnival underworld. It is a world where greed thrives and characters often suffer from alcoholism and wield sex like a weapon. Tyrone Power’s Stanton Carlisle absolutely loves it. He is at home in it.
- It does not have the urban setting- but it its dark fatalism certainly feels like noir. And the lights on the big top tent at night with the ropes holding them make for a decent substitute for the city alleyways.
- When the carnival is at risk of being shut down by the law- there is a strong scene of Carlisle sweet talking his way around the marshal. The writing is dazzling- this is Jules Furthman (screenwriter of Morocco, To Have and Have Not, Rio Bravo) adapting the novel. This scene forecasts his future occupation (and graduation from the carnival life) to a conniving mentalist.
- Lee Garmes is the cinematographer (Morocco, Shanghai Express, Scarface, Duel in the Sun).
- It was rare to see a handsome protagonist in Hollywood play a character this enterprising – or “ruthless” as used in the text. So though he is not a talented actor- kudos to Power for challenging himself with this great role/character.
- It is an extremely engaging (albeit depressing) moral tale: tarot cards, Coleen Gray as Molly- posing as a figure to swindle money.
- “Who are you calling a freak?”- this is most definitely one of the bleakest of films made in Hollywood during this era. One could pair it with Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream (2000).
- Shares the same dark carnival setting with Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks
- The “geek”- defeatism- “mister, I was made for it”- a wallop of a resolution. – it would be better to end it there- not the uplifting reunion of sorts with Molly.
- Recommend/Highly Recommend
@Drake- where do you stand with the Del Toro’s version for now? I caught it today in theater and was pretty mesmerized- I hope that Del Toro is starting a stretch of great movies, together with The Shape of Water in 2017.
Is HR to MS a believable grade for it?
@RujK- I was impressed as well. I have seen it twice now.
@RujK – have you seen both versions? If so, which do you prefer?
@James Trapp- I have seen just the new version. I am very excited to watch the older one when I finnaly come to 1947 with my marathon.
So I cannot say which one I prefer, but if I will agree with Drake on the grade (so R/HR), I prefer the new one, because is for me at least HR/MS (after one watch).
I agree with that rating on Nightmare Alley as a HR/MS. Might be slightly higher for me personally.
I think it probably rates as some of Cate Blanchett’s and certainly Bradley Cooper’s best work – great year for him on the whole with his excellent cameo in Licorice Pizza.
It is, to me, the most well-constructed of all of del Toro’s recent work, in regards to the script. The ending is one of the best in recent years, for all of cinema.
My only thing is I wish the score had been slightly more matched to the melodrama of the film, as it is a little too subtle for my liking at times.
@Jeff No. 2- I completely agree that is some of the best work from Blanchett and Cooper (the whole cast is fantastic: Mara, Jenkins, Strathairn, Dafoe), but Cooper is certainly the best- I am actually still thinking if this is his best performance (if it is, is just slightly better than Silver Linings Playbook and A Star is Born).
You are also completely right on the ending- it just might be the best Del Toro has ever constructed, a perfect closure for one of the best character arcs (and studies) of the past decade.
But I will need to disagree on the music, because I thought it was great. Del Toro was always famous for making twisted fairytales, and this one is no different, even if it has more roots in noir. So, for me, this whimsical (almost Desplat level of whimsy) score suited very well- it made the world even more bizarre, otherworldly and emersive.
It is certainly a film I will rewatch with a lot of joy, so it might some day climb to MS for me, but this is certainly the highest I am expecting to grade it.
For me, I think Drake underrates Cooper, but I understand why, as I rate some of his films a lot higher than Drake does.
For me, his role in American Hustle makes my best of the year.
I think Cooper actually gives the best performance in American Hustle, which I know is a controversial opinion.
And A Star Is Born is easily in the Top 10 of the year for me and his performance is mesmerising, so he’s in my best of the year.
Interestingly, in 2012, I’d still have him in, but it would be combined more for Place Beyond The Pines and Silver Linings Playbook – mostly the former for me, honestly.
@James No. 2- I love Cooper, but Bale surely gives the best performance in American Hustle, after him is Adams, and as the third comes Cooper.
I would have him in 2012 for Silver Linings Playbook, 2013 as a combined mention for him and Renner in American Hustle (Bale is a solo mention) and in 2021 for Nightmare Alley.
For now my ranking of his performances is:
1. Nightmare Alley (HR/MS)
2. Silver Linings Playbook(HR)
3. A Star Is Born (HR)
4. American Hustle (MS)
5. Probably American Sniper (R), even if he is better in per-minute in Licorice Pizza (HR, can go higher)
Just got this on Criterion, was impressed by the Del Toro version. Excited to compare the two.
What are some examples of remakes that were suprerior to the original? For me
1. Cape Fear
While I love Mitchum, Gregory Peck was quite bland compared to Nick Nolte’s version of Sam Bowden as the Nolte version was a more complex and interesting character. Also, the visuals in the Scorsese version as far superior such as the great firework scene.
I love both versions as they are both tremendous in terms of visuals and narrative. While I think the Hawks version is a more of a landmark film than the De Palma version I prefer the De Palma’s extremely over the top style along with Pacino delivering a phenomental performance.
3. The Man Who Knew Too Much
Both versions directed by Hitch, they are both enjoyable but the remake is the stronger film, The Master himself agrees “Let’s say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional”
4. Insomnia, this one may be controversial but I prefer the 2002 Christopher Nolan version over the Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 version. I posted some of this on the 2002 page. Nolan’s version had incredible performances from Pacino and Robin Williams, particularly the scenes they share like the Ferry scene. Pacino’s portrayal of a combination of exhaustion and guilt is phenomenal and while he has a few great Pacino style outbursts he does the majority of his acting through internalizing and facial expressions. You also have the great cat and mouse chase between Pacino and Williams with the Alaska setting really works in throwing the viewer off, the non-stop sun, fish out of water atmosphere.
“this is most definitely one of the bleakest of films made in Hollywood during this era”
Yeah this must have horrified audiences at that time. aside from the bleakness the bizarre carnival setting with characters like “The Freak” and the use of an antihero protagonist must have been shocking.
Apparently some critics were surprised by the character Lilith Ritter (played by Helen Walker). Specifically in the way that she does not get her comeuppance despite her amoral ways. This was a violation of the Hays Code which did not allow characters to make a profit off of crime unless they were arrested or otherwise held accountable for their crimes in some way.