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Joan Blondell: The Fizz on the Soda

Thursday, June 26, 2008
6:30 p.m. Nightmare Alley
Edmund Goulding (U.S., 1947)

Beholding a carnival geek at the beginning of this weirdly affecting exercise in noir fatalism, ambitious hustler Stan (Tyrone Power) wonders “how anyone could get so low.” He’ll find out. Stan sees possibilities in Zeena the Miracle Woman (Blondell, lush and melancholy), a fake mystic with a genuine instinct for disaster. After replacing Zeena’s alcoholic albatross of a husband, Stan replaces Zeena, rising from barker to mentalist to spiritualist; peddling insight and preying on human weakness, he plots with a tony woman psychologist to con the cream of Chicago society. “Takes one to catch one,” these two charlatans tell each other, before Stan realizes he’s caught. The plot is “picaresque and cathartic” (Guy Maddin), and the dark elegance of Lee Garmes’s cinematography adds gloss and depth to the sleaze.

—Juliet Clark

• Written by Jules Furthman, based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. Photographed by Lee Garmes. With Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, Helen Walker. (110 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Criterion Pictures/20th Century Fox)