By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 17, 2021)
Nightmare Alley (The Criterion Collection)
“How can a guy get so low?” Even within the dark recesses of film noir, this cynical 1947 entry is about as “low” as you can get. Directed by Edmund Goulding and adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel by Jules Furthman, the film was a career gamble for star Tyrone Power, who really sinks his teeth into the role of carny-barker-turned “mentalist” Stanton Carlisle.
Utilizing his innate charm and good looks, the ambitious Carlise ingratiates himself with a veteran carnival mind-reader (Joan Blondell). Once he finagles a few tricks of the trade from her, he woos a hot young sideshow performer (Coleen Gray) and talks her into partnering up to develop their own mentalist act.
The newlyweds find success on the nightclub circuit, but the ever-scheming Carlisle soon sees an opportunity to play a long con with a potentially big payoff. To pull this off, he seeks the assistance of a local shrink (Helen Walker). While not immune to Carlisle’s charms, she is not going to be an easy pushover like the other women in his life. Big trouble ahead…and a race back to the bottom.
The film was considered such a downer that 20th-Century Fox all but buried it following its first run. In addition, legal tangles barred it from being reissued in any home video format until a 2005 DVD release (I was one of those noir geeks who literally jumped for joy when I heard the glorious news).
Criterion makes it go to “11” with its new 4K digital restoration and audio upgrade. Extras include new interviews with critic Imogen Sara Smith and performer and historian Todd Robbins. The commentary track from the 2005 DVD by film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver has been ported over to this edition as well.