Catch ‘Nightmare Alley’ on the big screen in Westwood

Nightmare Alley posterNightmare Alley” (1947, Edmund Goulding) plays at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood. You will not be disappointed!

Lest you think classic noir is limited to private-eye offices, police stations and penthouse apartments, director Edmund Goulding’s flick transports us to the seedy world of traveling carnivals. Tyrone Power is Oscar-worthy as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic hustler looking to break into the big time. The excellent cast includes Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith and Mike Mazurki. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel.

This is one of my all-time fave film-noir titles!

You can read the full review here.

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The Noir File: John Ford’s ‘The Informer’ is a great precursor

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Informer” (1935, John Ford). Friday, Dec. 14, 6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.). Gypo Nolan – a hulking, good-natured, almost childlike brute of a Dubliner (played by Victor McLaglen) – has betrayed his I.R.A. friend to the British police. Now, with the reward in his pocket, he prowls the dark, fog-shrouded streets of his city.

Victor McLaglen plays Gypo, a hulking, good-natured, almost childlike brute of a Dubliner.

At first Gypo pushes aside his anxiety and remorse, and spends the blood money, carousing and drinking with his instant new “friends.”

But gradually, fate and darkness, along with Gypo’s old comrades and his conscience, begin to close in – as the I.R.A. and their just but relentless commander (Preston Foster) track down the informer.

Of all the great film noir precursors of the ’30s – “M,” “The 39 Steps,” “You Only Live Once,” “Scarface,” “Le jour se lève” and “Public Enemy” – John Ford’s Oscar-winning masterpiece, “The Informer,” is one of the darkest, most powerful and most noirish.

Based on the much-admired Irish novel by Liam O’Flaherty, “The Informer” won Oscars for Ford’s superb direction, for Dudley Nichols’ taut, dramatic script, for Max Steiner’s haunting music and for McLaglen’s unforgettable performance as Gypo – a doomed man alone, surrounded by danger, tormented by his own guilt-ridden, fear-lashed soul. (In 1968, Jules Dassin remade “The Informer,” not as effectively, as “Up Tight.”)

Wednesday, Dec. 12

Barbara Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy in “Lady of Burlesque.”

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “The Man I Love” (1947, Raoul Walsh). Jack Warner once said “Raoul Walsh’s idea of a tender love scene is to burn down a whorehouse.” Here is Walsh’s idea of a tender love story: the tough, racy tale of a sultry, wised-up night club singer (Ida Lupino) and the man who loves her: slick gangster Robert Alda.

5 a.m. (2 a.m.): “Lady of Burlesque” (1943, William Wellman). A salty murder mystery set in the world of strip-tease shows, with Barbara Stanwyck as the stripper-sleuth. Based on the best-seller “The G-String Murders,” a book credited to legendary peeler Gypsy Rose Lee, ghosted by crackerjack comedy/mystery writer Craig Rice (“Home Sweet Homicide”).

Friday, Dec. 14

1:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles).

Saturday, Dec. 15

8:45 a.m. (5:45 a.m.): “Impact” (1949, Arthur Lubin). Infidelity and murder plots, with Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Helen Walker, Anna May Wong and Charles Coburn.

Sunday, Dec. 16

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young). From the hit stage play by Frederick (“Dial M for Murder”) Knott. Blind woman Audrey Hepburn sees no evil and tries to stave off Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston.

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “The Unholy Three” (1925, Tod Browning). A shivery thriller about three crooks who meet at the circus and form an unholy gang: a strong man (Victor McLaglen), a midget (Harry Earles) and a cross-dressing ventriloquist (Lon Chaney). One of the eeriest of all Browning’s macabre collaborations with Chaney (Silent with music track.)

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‘Nightmare Alley’ star and story dare to go against the grain

Nightmare Alley/1947/Twentieth Century Fox/110 min.

There’s a fateful moment in the beautifully lit “Nightmare Alley” in which cinematographer Lee Garmes creates a latticework of light, with neat bands of shadow slicing the room to bits. Performer/con artist Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) is at the height of his success, having built himself up from nothing, but he’s about to get trapped by a soigné spider woman who’s far sharper and more ruthless than he.

Molly (Coleen Gray) and Stan (Tyrone Power) take their code on the road.

Stan is handsome, charismatic and ambitious, a born player. He hones his craft by working in a seedy carnival and taking what he can from his fellow performers. He cozies up to Zeena (Joan Blondell), a matronly “mentalist” who’s seen better days, angling to get her secret code designed for a mindreader and an assistant.

Her former co-star and now-alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith) opposes the idea, but Zeena relents after Pete dies from drinking wood alcohol.

Helping Stan learn the code is Molly (Coleen Gray), easy on the eyes, eager to please and smitten with him. Zeena and Bruno the strong-man (Mike Mazurki) push Stan to marry Molly; the newlyweds form an act and leave the carnival for Chicago.

Helen Walker

At the upscale Spode Room, Stan does a reading for cooly elegant Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), a psychologist with a roster of wealthy clients. He senses that, despite her diploma and pedigree, Lilith is a player just like he is. (Maybe it’s her slightly mannish outfits that tip him off.)

Together they see a way to cheat Lilith’s clients and rake in hundreds of thousands in cash as Stan morphs into a spiritual healer. The still-devoted Molly does her best to stand by him.

But Stan can’t compete with Lilith’s level of deception and treachery. The trap evoked in Lilith’s office by the latticework shadow is now real. Starting with a bottle of gin in a dingy hotel room, Stan begins to self-destruct.

Pete (Ian Keith) talks shop with Stan (Tyrone Power).

Based on a novel by William Lindsay Gresham (Jules Furthman wrote the script) and directed by Edmund Goulding, this is an incredibly sophisticated and well made film, though it fared poorly at the box office. It may have been easy for viewers to dismiss as strange or sordid because Power plays an anti-hero and Goulding refuses to shy away from showing alcoholism and addiction.

The film revels in ambiguity and mystery, exploring questions of morality and spirituality, particularly when we see Stan layer his act with a preacher’s rhetoric, masking his cynicism and contempt for his faithful believers.

“Nightmare Alley” owes its existence and budget (this is not a B movie) to its leading man and his clout at Twentieth Century Fox. Hugely popular for his swashbuckler and romantic heroes, Tyrone Power was one of Fox’s top stars in the mid 1940s. Coming from a family of stage actors (his heritage was Irish and French), he craved more challenging projects and roles. In 1946, Power and Goulding made “The Razor’s Edge,” based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel.

Goulding, of “Grand Hotel” fame, was known as a women’s director and for throwing lavishly wild Hollywood parties. He gets outstanding work from the “Nightmare Alley” cast with Power giving subtlety and depth to a dark, complicated character. His performance as the unrepentant hustler likely helped pave the way for 1970s anti-heroes such as Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy.”

Power’s popularity and success continued, and he had another noir role in 1957’s “Witness for the Prosecution” by Billy Wilder. Sadly, it was the last film he completed. While filming “Solomon and Sheba” in Madrid, Power, 44, died from a heart attack on Nov. 15, 1958. Handsome opportunist Stan Carlisle in “Nightmare Alley” remains one of his greatest achievements.

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‘Nightmare Alley’ quick hit

“Nightmare Alley” plays today, Nov. 9, at 4:30 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as part of AFI FEST 2011.

Nightmare Alley/1947/Twentieth Century Fox/110 min.

Lest you think classic noir is limited to private-eye offices, police stations and penthouse apartments, director Edmund Goulding’s flick transports us to the seedy world of traveling carnivals. Tyrone Power is Oscar-worthy as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic hustler looking to break into the big time. The excellent cast includes Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker, Ian Keith and Mike Mazurki. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel.

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