Sunday, September 6, 2009

Noir! Nighmare Alley and Leave Her to Heaven

Nightmare Alley (1947) stars Tyrone Power as a con man who turns into a highly successful carnie mentalist by tricking his way into a mind reading code. From there, he hooks up with an amoral female psychiatrist to bilk the wealthy out of large sums of money by revealing their unknown secrets, only spoken about in therapy. It's a grim, fatalistic little movie, full of seediness and alcoholism, and a deep, dark, inescapable Fate. Yes, Fate, with a capital F. Powers really is quite good, and Joan Blondell is magnificent as the fading sideshow mystic. But the best performance of the film goes to Helen Walker as the psychotherapist who rolls the biggest con of all. Hardly a sunny movie, rather wonderfully black noir, and worth a watch for the realistic carnival atmosphere, if nothing else. Plus, you find that you're always only several steps away from becoming the Geek. Good to remember.

Now, Leave Her to Heaven. Wow. The title is taken from Hamlet, speaking about his mother: "leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her." Gene Tierney is fantastic as the dangerously jealous femme fatale of a wife with wonderful taste in clothing and sunglasses. She will do anything to have her husband to herself, and I mean anything. I'm usually not a fan of Tierney. She was completely beautiful, with her angelic face, but often comes off as flat onscreen. Here, that quality works for her, as it did for Nicole Kidman in To Die For. That feeling that something is missing from their emotional makeup that can cause a romantic role to fall flat works so well when the role is somewhat sociopathic.
My only question would be this: Can a movie in such lush Technicolor actually be considered noir? It's beautifully shot and full of criminal twists and turns, but I'm not sure it's noir. Wonderful, yes. As an addition, keep an eye out for a very young Vincent Price as a prosecuting attorney/spurned lover. So good, I watched it twice.

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