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YES: Nightmare Alley

A rousing neo-noir thriller remake with eye-popping set design and baddies you're going to love. Terrific date night in terrifically- lush theaters. Gateway and elsewhere.

Nightmare Alley

“Is it a beast, or is it a man? You're in luck, because tonight, you will see him feed! Come on in and find out. Is he a man... or beast?” Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe)

There’s not much a filmmaker can do to destroy the interest audiences have in the remaking of  a film-noir classic: the corruptible good guy, the seductive femme fatale, the dark alleys, the glitzy gates to hell represented by carnival shows, murder, and morally-diseased humanity. All these are staples and of enduring appeal to audiences titillated by seeing the dark side.

Is there room for a better noir in remake? Case in point: Nightmare Alley—directed by a cinematic magician, Guillermo del Toro—adds a colorful canvas of sideshow splendor, occupied by Felliniesque carnies and specimens, taking money and goodness from gullible audiences, frequently rubes but occasionally swells who left their scruples back in their estates.

Bradley Cooper joins Bogey and Power and the many other actors who played flawed heroes like gifted grifter Stanton Carlisle. He joins a carnival sideshow to have a roof and food. He discovers his talent for illusion, be it sending electricity through his innocent assistant Molly (Rooney Mara) or bilking wealthy widowers like sinner Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins).

It is a joy to watch the charismatic lead descend into the hell of deceit by misdirection just as it is to see wealthy head Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchette) perform the femme fatale duties icy with class and charm. Together they fleece the wealthy so completely that some take to suicide after losing everything including their sanity.

Visually, the neo-noir thriller Nightmare Alley is a feast of colorful set design (it is a carnival after all) and perfectly modulated light to make you feel you are there at the beginning of WWII. The world is in turmoil for a beast who will murder millions. As Nightmare Alley shows, Hitler is not the only beast roaming who could as well be Stan, our man:

“I am prepared to offer you folks one last chance to witness this supreme oddity. Where did it come from? … gone wrong somehow in maternal womb. Not fit for living.” Clem

Nightmare Alley is a pleasure to see and hear but a reminder that humankind’s ability to foster evil is eternal, albeit fascinating.

Nightmare Alley

Director: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)

Screenplay: del Toro, Kim Morgan based on William Lindsay Gresham novel

Cast: Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth)

Run Time: 2h 30m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at


John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.