Calling All Geeks: Unforgettable Carnival Noir Nightmare Alley Inaugurates New Season – 35mm Screening

The Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University – Building E, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave
General Admission: $5 • NEIU Students: $2

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Wednesday, January 11 @ 7:30 PM
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
Directed by Edmund Goulding • 1947
Tyrone Power bought the rights to William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley out of a desire for a role with more psychological depth than his usual swashbucklers, an aspiration more than fulfilled in this brutal film noir. (It was probably hard for a man to don the mask of Zorro after returning from the horrors of World War II.) Power plays small-time carnival barker Stan Carlisle, who begins his descent after witnessing the most sinister of sideshow acts: a “geek” who bites the heads off live chickens. Stan reacts with both horror and fascination, and thus begins his unintentional journey to find out exactly how a man could sink to such depths. He uses a tragic accident to convince Zeena (Joan Blondell) to teach him the code for a mind-reading act that once had her and her husband Pete (Ian Keith) at the top of the vaudeville game. With the help of Molly (aka Elektra the electric chair wonder, played by Coleen Gray) and a crooked psychologist (Helen Walker) willing to offer up her patients’ secrets, Stan turns his mentalist stage act into something much more ambitious, providing “spiritual comfort, whatever the cost,” to members of Chicago high society. (Perhaps in another story Stan might have gone on to create Dianetics.) Nightmare Alley was a flop upon its release due to its unsavory subject matter and the studio’s open dislike for the property, but it remains a nasty and unforgettable film. Nightmare Alley stumbles briefly in an attempt to insert a moral message that the original novel lacked, but don’t worry–even these half-hearted attempts can’t help Stan (and us) escape the screams of the geek and the bottom of the bottle. (RL)
110 min • 20th Century-Fox • 35mm from Criterion Pictures, USA
Cartoon: “Make Me Psychic” (Sally Cruikshank, 1978) – 35mm – 8 min

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