Friday, November 18, 2005

Nightmare Alley

"How does someone get to be a geek? Are they born that way?"

My favorite film noir? Well, it's a tough choice, with A Touch of Evil, DOA and Kiss Me Deadly all strong contenders. And is White Heat a noir, or just a gangster movie? Anyway, the one that wins out is Nightmare Alley. It's not as edge-of-your-seat as DOA, and not quite as cinematic as A Touch of Evil (although just as sleazy), but the story wins for me. It's a dark trip through the world of carnies and con men. Of course, I love anything involving carnies, and this flick tops even Tod Browning's Freaks (or Browning's earlier The Unknown) for me. Tyrone Power stars, shedding his dashing leading man image (as this frame demonstrates):

Great performances from Joan Blondell

Coleen Gray

And Helen Walker, in deadly Femme Fatale mode (her character's name is Lilith):

This has been a pretty rare film until the DVD came out this year. It had never been released on video. Like many films, I first read about it in Danny Peary's Cult Films book. Truth be told, the book the movie is based on, by William Lindsay Grisham, is even better than the film. The book is incredibly bleak and savage, reminiscent of both Jim Thompson and Nathaniel West. Each chapter is named for a Major Arcana card in the tarot deck, and the imagery of the progression of the cards defines the story. The book is out of print (although, if you live in LA, the library has a copy). There are two monologues from the book that are quoted at length in the song "Car Radio Jerome" by Fred Lane and his Hitite Hotshots. The artist known as Spain also produced a graphic novel of the story recently.


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