Nightmare Alley (Goulding, 1947)

The problem with the “rise and fall” films is their similarity in narrative no matter the genre, leaving it up to the director to find some interesting way to distinguish their vision. Goulding does so for the first hour, distinctly showing a shadowy carnival setting and the cast of diversely seedy characters one might associate with such an arena. Tyronne Power plays Stanton, an ambitious carny who comes into some information which leads him toward fame and fortune. But once Nightmare Alley moves out of the tight, cramped space of the carnival, it loses some of it’s bite, falling into traditional themes of guilt ridden angst leading to an ultimate downfall of our hero. One fascinating line has Stanton telling his cohort a rich society type is willing to give him his own radio show if he continues to give his psychic advice. Of course, he’s a fraud and this moment is a telling lead in the shady nature of our current evangelicals. His slow shift from regular entrepreneur to convincing minister is the film’s scariest asset. No matter how much Stanton thinks he’s helping people, the truth always points to a rotten apple.

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