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Nightmare Alley (1947)

aka Nightmare Alley

"He was all things to all men ... but only one thing to all women!"

Directed By: 
Details: 110 mins · English


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Small Stanton 'Stan' Carlisle
Small Zeena Krumbein
Small Molly
Small Lilith Ritter
Small Ezra Grindle
Small Bruno
Small Pete Krumbein


No_movie_poster Jules Furthman Screenplay
Small Edmund Goulding Director
No_movie_poster William Lindsay Gresham Novel
No_movie_poster George Jessel Production
No_movie_poster William Lindsay Gresham Story Contributor
No_movie_poster Barbara McLean Editing


"He was all things to all men ... but only one thing to all women!"


The movie follows the rise and fall of a con man — a story that begins and ends at a seedy traveling carnival. Stanton "Stan" Carlisle (Tyrone Power) joins the carnival, working with "Mademoiselle Zeena" (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband, Pete (Ian Keith). Once a top-billed act, Zeena and Pete used an ingenious code to make it appear that she had extraordinary mental powers, until her (unspecified) misdeeds drove Pete to drink and reduced them to working in a third-rate outfit. Stanton learns that many people want to buy the code from Zeena for a lot of money, but she won't sell; she is saving it as a nest egg. He tries to romance Zeena into teaching it to him, but she remains faithful to her husband and even hopes to send him to an detox clinic for alcoholics. One night in Texas, Stanton accidentally gives Pete the wrong bottle: the old man dies from drinking wood alcohol instead of moonshine. To keep her act going, Zeena is forced to teach Stanton the mind-reading code so that he can serve as her assistant.

Stanton however, prefers the company of the younger Molly (Coleen Gray). When their romance is found out, the remainder of the carnies forced the pair into a shotgun marriage. No longer welcome in the carnival, Stanton realizes this is actually a golden opportunity for him. He and his wife leave the carnival. He becomes "The Great Stanton", performing to enraptured audiences in expensive nightclubs. However, he has higher ambitions. With crooked Chicago psychologist Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker) providing him with information about her patients, Stan passes himself off as someone who can actually communicate with the dead. The plan almost works, until Stanton tries to swindle skeptical Ezra Grindle (Taylor Holmes) by having Molly pose as the ghost of Grindle's long-lost love. When the heartbroken Grindle breaks down, Molly refuses to play the charade and confesses to Grindle. In the meantime, Ritter has scammed Stanton by giving him only a $150 of Grindle's money rather than the promised $150,000, and by vowing to testify that he is mentally disturbed should he accuse her of complicity. Stanton and Molly leave town hurriedly. Stanton gives the $150 to Molly and urges her return to the carnival world where people care for her, while he gradually sinks into alcoholism.

Finally, the fallen Stanton tries to get a job at another carnival, only to suffer the ultimate degradation: the only job he can get is playing the geek, eating live chickens in a sideshow. Unable to stand his life any further, he goes berserk, but fortunately, Molly happens to work in the same carnival. Stan regains hope when he sees her again, and Molly vows to nurse him back to health; but their reunion is bittersweet, being reminiscent of Zeena nursing the ever-drunk Pete.

This conclusion, while somewhat dark and ambiguous, differs from the novel, which implies that Stanton is doomed to work as a geek until he drinks himself to death.

Release Dates:

DVD : 2005-06-07