Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I was made for it

Catching up on films noir last night, I finally saw what might possibly be the best one of all. My mum has been on at me to watch NIGHTMARE ALLEY for years, without being able to say much about it other than mentioning Tyrone Power and geeks. I think it has only been on DVD for a year or so, which is criminal for such a fantastic piece of work, but at least I've seen it now.

I won't go into plot details. (Use IMDB for that.) All I'll say is that my mum was right when she said it was about geeks. These days we picture the "geek" as someone in spectacles hunched over a keyboard with an obsessive look about him. Rather like I am at this moment. But back then, in 1947 and earlier, the geek was a kind of human abomination who provided the most lurid and questionable thrills at a travelling "carny".

I've always been fascinated by freakshows and the exploitation of human abberations, but the geek is fits into neither of these camps, being a psychological rather than a physical phenomenon. At the beginning we see the geek on show and witness him (off camera) devouring a couple of live chickens. It seems the geek is the lowest form of human life, devoid of dignity and willpower and any kind of fight whatsoever. He is there to be exploited, and exploited he must be. All he needs is his "bottle a day" (of gin or whatever), and he's happy to go on. Stan (Tyrone Power) questions how any man can get so low. During the course of the next couple of hours, he finds out.

This film is superb on so many levels. Best of all it is utterly original and unlike anything else you have seen. If you catch the DVD (Region 2 at least - I don't know about other territories) don't miss the background notes by Woody Haut.

Find this film and watch it. Become mildly obsessed with it and make others so. NIGHTMARE ALLEY should have a following. Of geeks, freaks and all the rest.


Anonymous said...

Ooooooooh Charlie, I LOVE that film. I have the book too - I was well chuffed when I found it. The film should have finished when the book did - at the scene before the last one (ie at THAT line)- but even that addition doesn't stop the film from being one of the noirest of films noir I've ever seen.

Tyrone Power is bloody brilliant - and all three of the main female characters are excellent - especially Lilith.

Charlie Williams said...

Luck you (who?) I really want the book now. Plus his (Gresham's) "Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny". He also wrote a book on body-building.

Agree about the females. All very interesting and different.

Anonymous said...

That comment was from me by the way Charlie.