Nightmare Alley Edmund Goulding

This carny-set "rise and fall" narrative is so choked with failure and nastiness that you'll hardly believe it dates back to 1947. Tyrone Power is a carnival barker who worms his way into a mentalist act; first he learns the secret code from a veteran (Joan Blondell) then blows her off for a younger model (Colleen Gray) and rises to become a top attraction on the verge of real power. He's slightly guilt-ridden over accidentally killing Blondell's alcoholic husband, but that's a minor quibble when you're on the upswing like he is. Unfortunately, he's egomaniacal enough to get in over his head, especially when he falls in with a psychologist (Helen Walker) who's running a con of her own. Awesomely cynical even by film noir standards, this introduced the circus geek into the popular consciousness and accordingly features some of the most shocking content in a pre-1960s Hollywood picture. It's brave enough to debunk blind faith of all kinds, whether in the traditional con of the supernatural or the modern voodoo science of psychology; while it never does away with them, it demonstrates that a little of either is all it takes to spin a web to fleece the rubes. And though Power's wounded-orphan character is another in a long line of out-of-their-depth noir suckers, his palpable desperation makes both his moral transgressions and eventual laying low pretty hard to take. Nightmare Alley is a first-rate film that deserves a wider audience. The "Fox Film Noir" title features the standard James Ursini/Alain Silver commentary, but their usual wealth of information isn't in evidence, replaced by some rather obvious explorations of the film's themes. (Fox)