Let’s take a stroll down Edmund Goulding’s ‘Nightmare Alley’, the one of the darkest and grimmest places you can venture in film noir. Cast against type, Tyrone Power gives arguably his greatest performance as scumbag trickster Stanton Carlisle who works at a travelling carnival. Stan is ambitious and will stop at nothing to reach the top so when he hears that fellow artiste Mademoiselle Zeena (Joan Blondell – fabulous) and her husband once had a lucrative mind-reading act, he sets out to seduce her to learn the code while all the name making eyes at gorgeous Molly (the excellent Coleen Gray) who’s in an act with strongman Bruno. Only one thing haunts Stan; the geek, part man, part animal, a stage show freak who devours live chickens and can only be calmed by a bottle of spirits a night. How could anyone sink so low, he wonders?
Once he has the code, Stan and Molly get married and set about hitting the big time with their new act and make quite a stir in Chicago. But Stan finds himself drawn to Dr. Lillith Ritter (Helen Walker as a chilling therapist), a fellow charlatan and opportunist. They seem to make a great team but can she really be trusted?
It’s the rise and fall of a man destroyed by his ambition and deceit. I can think of few films so dark and cynical and the alcohol fuelled visions only add to its haunting quality. It’s both compelling and repulsive and one which you’ll never forget. Not even the happy ending they tried to tack on can erase the sense of despair. And you have to see it for Tyrone Power – he is simply magnificent.