Nightmare Alley (1947)

Nightmare Alley (1947), directed by Edmund Goulding.

Tyrone Power is a selfish and manipulative carny. The carnival where he works is definitely lower end: they have a Geek, a degraded alcoholic who eats live chickens.

Our hero breaks out with a sophisticated mind reading act, then rises high as a society spiritualist. He falls hard, drinks and starts hearing the insane laughter of the Geek.

This was Powers's project; he bought the film rights because he wanted roles other than swashbucklers. It was produced by George Jessel, who I remember only as a talk show clown, but his bio reveals a long and productive career. Rights disputes kept this title off of disc for a long time.

Its dark and sordid reputation is deserved, although there is more soap opera than I expected. It's disappointing that some of the carnies actually believe in the tarot cards. But the cards are always right, and are there hints that our hero actually has psychic powers? He's not a total heel, but shows moments of remorse, kindness and consideration.

Three good female roles: Joan Blondell as the older woman who teaches him the mentalist tricks, young Coleen Gray as his devoted wife and assistant, and Helen Walker as an unscrupulous shrink who is way out of his league.

Also with the omnipresent Mike Mazurki as a strong man. I don't recall seeing Ian Keith before, but he would have made a good Lincoln.

The DVD has an appreciative commentary track by two noir scholars having a real discussion about the film.