Noirvember: Nightmare Alley (1947)

3 nightmare alley

In Noirvember we celebrate the dark and mysterious crime melodramas of the 1940s and 50s, now known as film noirs. Stylish, suspenseful and menacing, they made for one of the greatest and most influential eras in film history.

For many people, circuses are a place of horror and in 1947, Edmund Goulding, director of Grand Hotel and Dark Victory, brought this fear to life in the atmospheric film noir Nightmare Alley.

Tyrone Power plays Stan, a handsome but ambitious sideshow assistant. It is Zeena, portrayed by Joan Blondell, who Stan is working for at the circus. Charming and intelligent, Stan flirts with Zeena but the main object of his attraction is the young star of a circus show, Molly, played by Coleen Gray. The two form their own sideshow, a mind-reading act that suspends the audience in an awed revel. But matters are complicated further when Stan meets Lilith, a beautiful but scheming psychologist who helps him create an act which starts him on his descent into madness.

Stan is the unlikely villain in the story, his mesmerising smile and haunted imagination bringing upon his self-destruction. Tyrone Power gives a delicate but intense performance that he, understandably, called the best of his career. Coleen Gray and Helen Walker, both very early in their careers, hold their own and give strong performances opposite silver screen veterans Ian Keith and Joan Blondell.

The expressionistic lighting and use of shadows is typical of film noir but is used to great effect to show the inescapable insanity and degradation of the world Stan has created around himself. Tarot cards and secret codes will haunt your dreams, and with a powerful story of overreaching ambition, this dark film will leave you with a sense of disturbed fear unlike any other film.

Rating: ★★★★

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3 Responses to Noirvember: Nightmare Alley (1947)

  1. Paul Holdsworth says:

    Excellent review – another one for the LoveFilm list.

  2. Paul Holdsworth says:

    Yup, we’ve just watched this and absolutely loved it! Tyrone Power is outstanding – his transformation at the end of the film is really impressive. No need for fancy make-up, just longer hair and a brilliant, malevolent stare.

    • Rosie Alaska says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Paul! It really is one of Ty’s greatest performances. Absolutely brilliant film! Thanks for commenting!

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