Lindsay Bar | Associated Press
A title like Nightmare Alley, especially when paired with a director like Guillermo del Toro, suggests a certain type of film. After all, Del Toro, the director of The Forms of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth, has his own signature style.
But “Alley of Nightmares” is not about a haunted house or the supernatural. It’s noir, rooted in the recognizable, albeit exaggerated, reality of a handsome hustler’s brief ascent from a lowly carney to a high-paid showman. And it’s a decadent celebration in scope, duration, stellar power and manufacturing quality, and an exciting start for del Toro.
Fans of classic cinema may recognize this title for its relevance to Tyrone Power’s career. The 1947 film directed by Edmund Goulding was Power’s passion, who wanted to play something darker than the romantic thugs that made him a star. Critically, it worked — he received the best reviews of his career — but it was a financial downturn. And while it may be a classic for the TCM and Criterion Channel crowd (where it currently airs), it’s not something a casual movie buff should know.
Even a movie buff like del Toro was the first to stumble upon the book – a story on the ground floor about the sloppiness of show business and the strange people it attracts. Ron Perlman, who plays the carnival strongman Bruno, gave it to him almost 30 years ago. And with the help of co-scriptwriter Kim Morgan (a great film historian), they refined and polished the history of the B-movie into a hot spot starring Bradley Cooper as the brilliant and tragic Stanton Carlisle. Although at this stage of his career Cooper has no problem with typing (he was convinced of this), Stan is one of those compelling roles, whatever one may say, a mysterious sorcerer-manipulator, whose intellect and ambition are his salvation. grace and Achilles’ heel.
Stan can be thought of as Indiana Jones, knocking over his hat while lighting a match, but you know this guy is not a hero. You kind of like him, though, when he stumbled across the fairgrounds in the late 1930s and quickly went from being an intruder to being a confidant of some of the top performers. He meets the owner (Willem Dafoe), befriends the soothsayer, Zina (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn), who are learning the tricks of their craft, and has won a liking for the pretty performer Molly (Rooney Mara). ).
Carney is just stepping stones to something grander, however, and pretty soon we find ourselves in what appears to be a different and more glamorous film, with Stan and Molly taking their mentalist act out to the big city. It is there that they meet Cate Blanchett psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Ritter, a classic femme fatale oozing elegance and whiskey, and begin to creep through their heads. Special mentions deserve production designer Tamara Deverell, art director Brandt Gordon, set designer Shane Vio and costume designer Luis Sequeira, who built two delightful cinematic worlds, one of the filth and squalor of the Depression, and the other of the splendor of decor.
The topics are also grand: a lot of talk about good and bad, playing with God, responsibility, money and loyalty, as well as the ubiquitous fear of falling. Stan knows what the bottom looks like, and his obsession with avoiding it will keep his way up. The themes are obvious and a little old-fashioned, and so is the trajectory. But this is not a cry: this is just a neatly constructed story, true to its genre and time. And hopefully this won’t be the last time Morgan and del Toro are resurrecting a hidden gem.
“Alley of nightmares”
3 stars out of 4
Rating: R (for sexually explicit content, nudity, swearing, and violent / bloody violence)
Duration: 150 minutes