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Wednesday, January 04, 2006




We Just Watched Nightmare Alley!


Let us assure you from the outset that this will not be another of those fawning DVD reviews about the dark, shadowy world of film noir, and how they represented the malaise and disillusionment of postwar society. Besides, if we’re talking disillusionment, I’d say the bookkeepers at Fox could have told us plenty about that in 1947, when this picture came in for a final loss of $567,000. Ouch! That’s not blood on the street in all those noir pics --- it’s studio red ink! In fact, from what I gathered in Rudy Behlmer’s excellent collection of Darryl F. Zanuck memos, the studio chief eventually put the kibosh on what he called pictures of violence and films with underworld or "low" backgrounds. That was an order dated June 14, 1950, after the crash and burn of Cry Of The City, Thieves Highway, Night and The City, and Panic In The Streets. When I look at some of these figures, I start to wonder if audiences were really all that crazy about this kind of stuff. After all, a little of it does go a long way, and for a few years back then, theaters must have seemed swamped with such grim fare. Darryl was no fool, but he probably thought Ty Power was for wanting to make Nightmare Alley. We all know how Ty "fought" for the role. Well, if he did, and indeed Zanuck went against his better judgment in producing it, then I don’t wonder that Power’s career suffered afterward, because it seems to be right around this time that DFZ found a new boy in Gregory Peck. I mean, doesn’t it make sense that Tyrone Power would have wanted to star in Gentleman’s Agreeement, with all that prestige and a bushel of Oscars? My guess is, there was a little bit of punishment being meted out here, and besides, as someone said while watching the movie yesterday, Ty’s getting a little age on him. Oh, he’s still got the movie star looks, but it’s not like the old Zorro or Jesse James days. When you watch things like That Wonderful Urge or Luck Of The Irish (if you can bear it), there’s a pervasive sense of invisible skids being positioned under the guy, and all the good properties are being routed to Greg's’agent, or worse, Dick Widmark's’! The war had a lot to do with it, with all that lost momentum. Four years out of a man’s professional life, and in a business where you had to keep dancing for Mr. And Mrs. Moviegoer just to survive. Ask Ronald Reagan, or Gable, or Bob Taylor. Things just weren’t the same after the surrender. Power had distinguished himself with military service, but so had a lot of other guys, and now he’s back, electing to show up in a thing like Nightmare Alley, which was only his second post-war vehicle. You’ve got to admire his pluck, that boxoffice-be-damned-I’m-here-to-show-you-I-can-act bravado. So does he pull it off? Oh, yeah --- he does --- resoundingly so. The man was never better than here --- and that voice! Why can’t actors speak any more? Back then, the leading men made themselves heard and understood. That’s how they led. Boy, I wish we had actors like Power around today. He’s just a maestro in this picture with all that huckster business, and hanged if you don’t want him to get away with it! Oh, and that ending. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a cop-out. Gracious, I’ve never seen a man look so rough as poor Ty at the finish of this thing, with those awful droopy eyes, and that shirt! That has got to be filthiest, grubbiest shirt I’ve ever seen on a human being, on or off the screen. I can't imagine how he put that thing on every day! Maybe it was actually clean and fluffy, and those are just special effects, but I don’t think so. Mister, I was made for it. Well, boy, he looks it! Leave it to nasty Roy Roberts to apply the finishing touch. That guy was always trouble, whether luring derelicts into geekdom, or burning down wax museums. Roy was plain trouble. About that ending again, I don’t think it’s hopeful at all. Poor Molly’s going to carry down-and-out Stan all the way to the finish, just like Zeena did with Pete. Great movie.

Aren’t these some neat production stills? If nothing else, they show what cramped, grueling work making movies really was. Does Ty look annoyed with Helen Walker in that one shot?. Maybe he’s just getting in character. Coleen Gray says he was great to her during the shoot. Director Edmund Goulding died not too many years after this. I read somewhere that when it came time to bury him, the pallbearers dropped his casket and it slid all the way to the bottom of an embankment. Sounds like a real madcap Hollywood funeral.

2 Comments:

Blogger Snowbag said...

The sense of space in these shots _is_ remarkable. I can see how actors might find a move to theatre-and its cramped spaces backstage--either perfectly acceptable or even refreshing.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Joan Chandler said...

Just looked at all the Ty Power photos and comments, as I have just now found your site. It's magnificent. I absolutely love it.

12:05 AM  

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