NIGHTMARE ALLEY

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Nightmare Alley (2021)

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, David Strathairn.
Director: Guillermo del Toro; Screenplay: del Toro and Kim Morgan; DP: Dan Laustsen; Score: Nathan Johnson.

Going in, many know the basic premise from the 1947 film starring Tyrone Power, or from the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham on which both films are based: A down-on-his-luck wanderer comes upon a carnival, where his fascination with the life style and its offer of employment eventually leads him to apprentice with a mentalist act. Although he is disgusted by a “geek” sideshow, where a crazed booze addled individual bites the heads of live chickens, he decides to stay on and learn the secret code of the clairvoyant act.

When he accidentally causes the death of the washed up mentalist in the duo, he and its female assistant decide to leave the carny in order to stage their own mentalist nightclub act that becomes very popular. During that time the protagonist meets up with a psychologist, which leads to their partnership in scamming wealthy society members out of large sums of money. The mentalist act devolves into psychic conjuring sessions which are eventually foiled, and the fate of all the participants start to unravel.

Although beautifully staged, photographed, and well acted, there are two chief deficits in the production. First was the miscasting of Bradley Cooper in the role of Stanton Carlisle. Referred to in the story as “the kid”, Cooper, at aged 46 was too old for the part. He also is not very capable of portraying a villainous cad, or one consumed by money that Tyrone Power did in the original. Leonardo DiCaprio was initially chosen and was in negotiation for the character before he dropped out. A better choice for the role of Cooper could have been Christian Bale, although both DiCaprio and Bale are likewise too old. There are any number of up and coming stars who would have better fit the bill.

Second, during the mid 1940s the public of that time was able to believe the notion of an individual who was crazed and debased enough by alcoholism to the point where he coulddegenerate into a carnival bestial “geek” who would bite the heads off of live chickens. And further, that a person could become an alcoholic capable of that slide simply by heavy drinking. This is not the case with audiences of the 21st Century. The novel and the ‘46 film were contemporary dramas. The 2021 film is a period piece. Because we’re asked to view those anachronistic notions with contemporary sensibilities, it creates a dichotomy that makes it difficult to believe the film.

The acting was of a high level that one would expect from such a dream cast. Stand outs were Willem Dafoe as the carnival boss, Toni Collette as Zeena, the partner in the traditional mentalist act, and Richard Jenkins as the wealthy tycoon mark, Ezra Grindle. Rooney Mara struck me as the embodiment of a 1940s lass. And Collete as Zeena was convincing as a grizzled carny. Blanchett as the psychologist was a little like a cadaver with heavy makeup, but her role was partly dependent on Carlisle’s believable allure for her, which simply was not convincingly demonstrated by Cooper.

Unfortunately there was no chemistry between Cooper and any of the three female leads. So we’re not convinced by the initial Carlisle/Zeena sexual attraction. Nor do we understand the basis of the love generated between Carlisle and the carny played by Mara, to the point where she is eager to leave the carnival with Carlisle. Likewise it’s a strain to believe the relationship that quickly develops between Carlisle and the psychologist.

The cinematography was very captivating. However it’s interesting to note that the ‘46 film created the noir mood with lighting and camera angles, whereas the new film relied too much upon CGI to create the film’s dark patina. In fact there was too much use of CGI. The flames in the prologue as well as some of the special effects seemed a little transparent.

Del Toro’s direction was a good effort, but will probably not be ranked among his finest. Reportedly when he and Cooper met, there occurred not only a meeting of the minds, but rather an artistic marriage. From that point on the film was destined to be the product of that relationship-- I think to its detriment. Del Toro’s screenplay was actually a little more faithful to the book than was the ‘46 version, although both treatments of the picture made some significant departures. The current film’s long running time enabled delving into more aspects of the novel, but it also created a slow pace to the script which detracted from the story’s punch. Of the two, I prefer the ‘46 version. It was more compact and impressive.

Both version’s ending lines were similar, but neither existed in the novel. To me the actual final statement in the novel was much more on target, but the screenwriters could not resist using a larger than life show boat line.
WARNING: spoilers below
The '46 version: "Mister, I was made for it." The 2021 version: "Mister, I was born for it." The actual quote: "Of course, it's only temporary-- just until we get a real geek" is far more fateful and fitting.

Doc’s rating: 6/10
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WARNING: "nightmare alley" spoilers below
The ‘46 version: “Mister, I was made for it”. The 2021 version: “Mister, I was born for it”. The actual quote, “Of course, it's only temporary – just until we get a real geek" is far more fateful and fitting.


@GulfportDoc - you need to either strip out all the COLOR commands from within the spoiler or simply replace your entire spoiler code with the above. From what I can see spoilers don't appear to like having COLOR commands within them, Yoda can probably advise more if needed.
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terrible, 0/5, not enough puppies.



Doc, I was wondering what your reaction to the remake of Nightmare Alley might be. I was only mildly interested in this rehashing of the original and now that I read your review (which is nicely written) I think I'll skip the movie entirely.



Registered User
Doc, I was wondering what your reaction to the remake of Nightmare Alley might be. I was only mildly interested in this rehashing of the original and now that I read your review (which is nicely written) I think I'll skip the movie entirely.

I just watched it (so much for the Superb Owl). It's worth it, I think.



Interesting differences between the two. Some predictable, others a bit illuminating.






@GulfportDoc - you need to either strip out all the COLOR commands from within the spoiler or simply replace your entire spoiler code with the above. From what I can see spoilers don't appear to like having COLOR commands within them, Yoda can probably advise more if needed.
'Preciate the help, Chyp. I've tried it several different ways via edits, and I can't get it to work properly. I must be doing something wrong, but can't figure out what.

The result above is from highlighting the spoiler, then using the red exclamation point above...



'Preciate the help, Chyp. I've tried it several different ways via edits, and I can't get it to work properly. I must be doing something wrong, but can't figure out what.

The result above is from highlighting the spoiler, then using the red exclamation point above...
You're so nearly there Doc, you just need to remove the single remaining "[ COLOR=#000000]" and "[ /COLOR]" commands from within the spoiler tags (I've added a space to each one after the opening bracket purely so they are visible in this post). You can't have any HTML Color tags within the spoiler area.



Yup, what Chyp said. Also, that color tag is just forcing the text to be black, which is roughly its default anyway.

I'd have fixed it myself except I'm literally about to watch it so I have to be careful!



That elusive hide-and-seek cow is at it again
Great review, Gulf. I caught this in theater when visiting mom a few weeks ago and it just felt like two different movies were stitched together in the middle somewhere. The first half showing the carny life was great. It had a handful of characters that I could invest into all while hinting at Carlisle's mysterious past and how he seemed to adapt and learn so much so that, if given the right set of circumstances, he could probably be quite successful.

The second half of the movie just fell apart with me. I think @GulfportDoc nails it exactly by noting contemporary audiences are being asked to dis-believe far too much given the relative experience when compared to a 1940's audience. It might work for some going in knowing what they're going into, and I think had some of the details been different then it might have worked for me, but plots became very silly. That can, in part, be attributed to my lack of knowledge of the novel and earlier film, but I still feel that some elements could have been modernized slightly, or some type of nod provided in reminding us, today, more of what would be believable then. This is all just out of its time, and not in the best way that the top half promised. The run time did not help either, considering that I was already disconnecting soon after Blanchett entered the screen. That is not at all a slight against Blanchett, rather against the silliness of some of the plot that I feel I really needed to invest in to accept the series of events through the end.

Sets and cinematography were gorgeous, as expected, but the story became painfully obvious as I continually asked myself, "Why would [character x] do that, knowing what they know?" and rolling my eyes at the setups. I'm sure this is a very nice throwback for those in the know or for those longing for the older mystery nostalgia. It just didn't work for me. Perhaps with a different shade of lenses, I might be able to return to this one day with more enjoyment knowing what I know now. That may not happen though, considering I've yet to return to The Shape of Water.

I have to agree with the 6/10 rating.
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You're so nearly there Doc, you just need to remove the single remaining "[ COLOR=#000000]" and "[ /COLOR]" commands from within the spoiler tags (I've added a space to each one after the opening bracket purely so they are visible in this post). You can't have any HTML Color tags within the spoiler area.
Well, there aren't any color commands within the spoiler tags. Here is what it looks like before saving (I put a space after the lead brackets for the demonstration):
[ spoilers]
The '46 version: "Mister, I was made for it." The 2021 version: "Mister, I was born for it." The actual quote: "Of course, it's only temporary-- just until we get a real geek" is far more fateful and fitting.
[ /spoilers]



Great review, Gulf. I caught this in theater when visiting mom a few weeks ago and it just felt like two different movies were stitched together in the middle somewhere. The first half showing the carny life was great. It had a handful of characters that I could invest into all while hinting at Carlisle's mysterious past and how he seemed to adapt and learn so much so that, if given the right set of circumstances, he could probably be quite successful.
...
Good points, ynwtf. I think that the '47 film was superior. Tyrone Power is much better casting than was B. Cooper. If you haven't seen it, it's free on YouTube.



Registered User
Good points, ynwtf. I think that the '47 film was superior. Tyrone Power is much better casting than was B. Cooper. If you haven't seen it, it's free on YouTube.

Already linked in this thread.



Well, there aren't any color commands within the spoiler tags. Here is what it looks like before saving (I put a space after the lead brackets for the demonstration):
[ spoilers]
The '46 version: [REDACTED]
[ /spoilers]
There's a color command right there in the bit you just quoted. COLOR=#000000. If you're not seeing it it's because it's being processed.

It's kinda hard to sort out because for some reason it looks like there are dozens of (possibly overlapping/redundant?) color and font tags. Are you writing this in another program and copying it in here, perhaps? If so, it's dragging all sorts of unnecessary and additional code with it.



I'm guessing as Doc's post used Liberation Serif font which is an open source font, he probably composed his post in LibreOffice Writer which is the standard office program for most Linux. I know Doc said he uses Ubuntu at home.

Doc, I don't know if you know this but when you edit your post, on the upper right hand side (above Smilies) is the Switch Editor Mode
Click that and you'll see all your tags and then you can easily remove them.



Ok Doc, I assumed you would be editing the actual post here. If you're formatting the post somewhere else and then copy/pasting it to here each time then CR possibly has the best advice to offer on this matter. I can only deal with the here and now as it were



Registered User
Nightmare Alley - the story of a man with a burning ambition for spoiler tags who paid for his hubris with a turn into a backstreet text-editing workshop.

Of course, your unmarked spoiler is temporary--just until we get to the end of your IT tutorial.



Originally Posted by yoda
There's a color command right there in the bit you just quoted. COLOR=#000000. If you're not seeing it it's because it's being processed.

It's kinda hard to sort out because for some reason it looks like there are dozens of (possibly overlapping/redundant?) color and font tags. Are you writing this in another program and copying it in here, perhaps? If so, it's dragging all sorts of unnecessary and additional code with it
I'm guessing as Doc's post used Liberation Serif font which is an open source font, he probably composed his post in LibreOffice Writer which is the standard office program for most Linux. I know Doc said he uses Ubuntu at home.

Doc, I don't know if you know this but when you edit your post, on the upper right hand side (above Smilies) is the Switch Editor Mode
Click that and you'll see all your tags and then you can easily remove them.
Aha! That was the problem. Like both of you said, by my copying the text from Linux/Libre Office, there was imbedded code that didn't show up in the compose or edit screen. So at CR's tip I went to the Switch Editor mode (which was new to me), and removed any "color" commands. That allowed the spoilers to present properly.

Many thanks, lads. That is a good feature to learn about!

~Doc



Excellent, glad we got that sorted. Now I can approve the review, and read it for that matter.

It's a bit of an edge case, not only because of the other program but because there's only one major browser, IIRC, that "hides" the transferred code, so someone had to be using that browser and writing in another program simultaneously for this to come up.