A Trailer a day keeps the Boogeyman away! I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941)

i+wake+up+screaming+lobby+card

This energizing piece of playful film noir directed by H. Bruce Humberstone (The Crooked Circle 1932, Charlie Chan ) is based on a novel by pulp writer Steve Fisher with a script by Dwight Taylor.

I Wake Up Screaming stars the swarthy Victor Mature  sandwiched between two lovely ladies, Betty Grable and Carole Landis and co-stars Laird Cregar and Elisha Cook Jr.

With a fantastic musical landscape by Cyril J Mockridge and you’ll hear the familiar melody Street Scene by Alfred Newman played over the main titles as well as this trailer… It gets me humming all over the house!

The stunningly shot frames with noir style shadows, odd angles and low lighting are lensed by cinematographer Edward Cronjager.

Annex - Landis, Carole (I Wake Up Screaming)_01

Cregar in Frankie's room

Grable and Landis I Wake Up Screaming

I Wake up Sceaming Cregar and Mature

I wake up Screaming -mature being grilled

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A model Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) dies mysteriously and Inspector Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar This Gun For Hire 1942, Hangover Square 1945) is obsessed with Frankie Christopher’s (Victor Mature) part in the murder!

Told in flashback we see how Frankie meets Vicky who’s first waiting tables, then introduces her to the right social circles. When she’s about to head for Hollywood to become a rising starlet, someone kills her. Inspector Cornell wants Frankie to go down for the murder, and the only one he can turn to for help is Vicky’s sister Jill (Betty Grable) who isn’t exactly crazy about the guy….
Sadly the beautiful Carole Landis who had starred in One Million B.C. (1940) with Victor Mature died of an overdose and the headlined stories about her death read like this “The Actress Who Could Have Been…But Never Was.”

 

Your ever lovin’ MonsterGirl

The Dark Corner: Private Detective Noir: Mark Stevens-Lucille Ball-Clifton Webb-William Bendix “for 6 bits you’d hang your mother on a meathook”

The Dark Corner (1946) Director Henry Hathaway’s (Niagra 1953, Kiss of Death 1947 )rhythmical detective Noir, with more than just one great line here or there to fill out the plot. Based on a story by Leo Rosten and adapted to the screen by Bernard C Schoenfeld (Phantom Lady 1944, Caged 1950, Down Three Dark Streets 1954, There’s Always Tomorrow 1955) and Jay Dratler.(Laura 1944, Call  Northside 777 (1948), Pitfall 1948, Impact 1949, The Las Vegas Story 1952)  Cinematography by Joseph MacDonald(Panic in the Streets 1950, The Young Lions 1958, Walk on the Wild Side 1962, The List of Adrian Messenger 1963, The Carpetbaggers 1964, The Sand Pebbles 1966). Music composed by Cyril J. Mockridge.

“Hard-boiled, well-paced narrative, — tough-fibered”– Bosley Crowther-The New York Times May, 9 1946

The Dark Corner is a particularly violent example of film noir the idea of a private detective being pursued by a gunman, whom he captures and proceeds to smash his hand and smears his white suit in order to make him confess to the reason he is tailing him. Later when William Bendix (white suit) breaks into the detective’s apartment he knocks him out viciously and before he leaves, he pays him in kind by stomping on Mark Steven’s hand while he’s unconscious. Dark Corner pushes the limits in drawing out anxiety in the audience. Still as yet Bradfor Galt the private eye (Mark Stevens) cannot imagine why he is being persecuted and hunted down. He doesn’t even know the identity of his enemy. There is an Machiavellian villainous master-mind who is pulling the strings, and Galt is merely a puppet but not the true object of his ire. The great thrust of this narrative is the sense of meaningless suffering mixed with the motiveless persecution.

In most Noir films there are the elements of existential anguish– the angst that runs through the central characters’ narrative. Bradford Galt is a prime example of the detective with this sense of being at the mercy of his past burden, the one that haunts his present life. He got a fast shuffle out west, accused of a crime he did not commit, serving time in prison for vehicular manslaughter, set up by his partner-the double-crossing dandy Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger) Now he just wants the chance to start up a legitimate business as a Private Detective in New York City.

Kathleen “But remember, I can get brand new tough guys for a dime a dozen.”

Bradford “Here, get yourself two dozen.”

[Bradford tosses two dimes at Kathleen across the table]

Kathleen Kathleen pushes them back towards Bradford] “I’d rather pick you up at a rummage sale. I’m a sucker for bargains. Speaking of bargains, if you can’t get nines in those nylons, I’ll take eight-and-a-half or even ten. Doesn’t matter.”

Bradford I’ll make a note of it.”

Mark Stevens (The Snake Pit, The Street With No Name) is Bradford Galt, the hemmed in beleaguered protagonist of the film. A private dick who just can’t escape his past, and is targeted as the fall guy in a malicious plot of revenge. As Foster Hirsch says in Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen “His life is subjected to wild reversals and inversions… Cornered, framed, set up as the patsy and the fall guy, these victims are the playthings of a malevolent noir fate…”

The Dark Corner (1946) Directed by Henry Hathaway Shown from left: Lucille Ball (as Kathleen), Mark Stevens (as Bradford Galt)

Lucille Ball is Kathleen Stewart his always faithful and trustworthy secretary who is with Galt for keeps. And then there’s the inimitable Clifton Webb as Hardy Cathcart who reprises his role at the effete love-struck snob Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944).

In The Dark Corner he plays the overrefined art dealer who’s sanctimonious utterances drives much of the film’s best lines. William Bendix is the quintessential homicidal thug, Cathcart’s paid muscle, Stauffer alias Fred Foss who’s been hired to shadow Galt and unnerve him just enough to manipulate Galt into having a confrontation with ex partner Tony Jardine in hopes of framing him for his murder by creating a motive for Jardin’s murder. Jardine is a man who blackmails women with incriminating love letters, in addition to having set Bradford Galt up for the previous manslaughter sentence, he is having an affair with Cathcart’s wife Mari (Cathy Downs) giving him money and jewels so they can take their stash and run away together and there in lies the tale of revenge. Galt is just the patsy, the fall guy and the sacrificial goat.

Hardy Cathcart has a psycho-sexually grotesque obsession with his wife Mari played by Cathy Downs In fact, his icy preoccupation with owning fine things in particular his wife, who bares a striking resemblance to a rare painting, presenting Webb’s character as a collector indeed, by entrapping his wife in a marriage as the ultimate ill fated ‘object’.

Hardy Cathcart: “The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that is neither immoral nor illegal.”

In the realm of the Noir as detective yarn, The Dark Corner goes smoothly through each scene, darker than some contributions to Noir, it is sustained by some memorable dialogue and a psycho-sexual current that flows underneath the narrative. In particular Cathcart as coded-gay character, which I will cover in my upcoming feature Queers & Dykes in the Dark: Classic, Noir & Horror Cinema’s Coded Gay Characters.

The Dark Corner utilizes some of the characteristic visual motifs of the Noir film The frame within a frame, which creates the environment of imprisonment. Bradford Galt is an iconic figure who’s existential anxieties create the trope of no way out.

Bradford Galt murmurs “There goes my last lead. I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner, and I don’t know who’s hitting me”. This reflects the uncertainty of the character’s situation. Mired in the existential despair of going down blind alleys and not being able to see who his enemies truly are.

Even the shot of Kathleen waiting in the cab, looking out the window, Kathleen (Lucille Ball looking gorgeous) face is framed by the glass and the darkened night. She is fixed within her love for Bradford Galt. As she tells him

Kathleen-“I haven’t worked for you very long, Mr. Galt, but I know when you’re pitching a curve at me, and I always carry a catcher’s mitt.”

Bradford-“No offense, A guy’s got to score, doesn’t he?”

Kathleen-“I don’t play for score. I play for keeps.”

 

There is a very memorable scene in The Dark Corner which has a very vivid moment of someone being flung out a window. I guess defenestration is a popular method of character disposal in Noir/Thrillers. Being hurled out a window is quite a drastic way to die, lets say rather than being shot in the heart once with a small pistol. Defenestration is an utterly violent way to die.

The Dark Corner has other inherently typical themes of Noir in addition to the detective yarn, it also shares the “wrong man archetype”. Galt has been framed for a crime he did not commit. For the first part of The Dark Corner it is also not made very clear the who and/or why someone, possibly this Jardine character is persecuting Galt.

The chiaroscuro is used powerfully when obscuring  the embrace of Jardin and Cathart’s wife’s downstairs in the lower level of the art gallery, while Hardy Cathcart stands off stage. This ambiguous shadow-play that Hardy Cathcart witnesses reveals that he might have known for quite some time about his wife’s unfaithfulness.

More disturbing is the idea, that as his prized possession, wife Mari is an object d ‘art, a thing, that will remain with him even if she doesn’t love him, even if she’s been with other men. This is the main underpinning for the film. Without Cathcart’s sinister obsession there would be no story.

Hardy Cathcart “Love is not the exclusive province of adolescence, my dear; it’s a heart ailment that strikes all age groups-like my love for you. My love for you is the only malady I’ve contracted since the usual childhood diseases. And it’s incurable.”

Hardy “I found the portrait long before I met Mari, and I worshiped it. When I did meet her it was as if I’d always known her. And wanted her.”

Party Guest “Oh how romantic”

Hardy “If you prefer to be maudlin about it. Perhaps.”

Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens) is superb as the private investigator who after serving 2 years for vehicular manslaughter, in which he was set up by his ex-partner a shyster lawyer  the suave Tony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger), Galt comes to New York from San Fransisco to start over. He’s got a kind of Alan Ladd, nice guy look about him.

He opens up his new detective’s agency. Bradford Galt sits in his huge mostly empty office with one large desk and a map of the city on the wall, and a phone.

Lt Frank Reeves ( Reed Hadley) is the ever present detective on Bradford Galt’s back, watching over him to make sure that he isn’t going to slide into any criminal behavior again, and let’s Bradford Galt know that he’ll be watched from here on out. The detective promised his friends in California that Bradford Galt wouldn’t get into any mischief, saying “He’s an impulsive youth” he’d be smart to keep it clean.

One of the driving narratives of The Dark Corner is Bradford Galt’s self persecution and Kathleen’s need to prop him up and keep him from feeling sorry for himself. The more he tells her to forget him, the tighter she holds on and sticks by him.

Kathleen-“What’s done to you is done to me.”

The banter between Stevens and Ball is highly palpable and it’s quite sweet the way they develop their relationship. Even when she mentions him being a detective and uncovering a pair of nylons size nine for her and he keeps saying he’ll make a note of that. It’s their chemistry, their adoring partnership that’s yet the other real focus of the story.

 (Frank Foss also known as ‘White Suit’ throughout the film) hired muscle and tail, dressed in an ‘out of season’ linen white suit is tailing Galt and his secretary very conspicuously, while the Galt and his new secretary and lady friend are on their first unofficial date, wandering through the Tudor Penny Arcade, they confer that white suit’s been tagging along. Both Bradford Galt and Kathleen notice him and conspire to get him up to Galt’s office. Kathleen is supposed to wait in a taxi and then follow Foss to where ever he goes. After Galt finds out what his game is. Once Bradford Galt gets hold of Foss (Bendix) he hits back hard, smashes his thumb with a rolled up wad of quarters used like brass knuckles and finds out that Jardine the ex partner who had framed Galt back in San Fransisco and is now after him once again. Or is this just a ruse, set up by yet another nefarious mastermind behind a scheme to frame Galt for murder once again.

This sets off a chain reaction for Bradford Galt to uncover why Jardine is so interested in him again. Bradford Galt roughs up Bendix, humiliates him, takes his wallet so he can remember his name and where he lives and when Foss spills ink on his desk, he wipes his inky fingers all over the nice white linen suit. Bradford Galt also breaks Frank Foss’ (Bendix’s) thumb. Which becomes significant later on in the film.

During the film Bradford Galt is as sullen as a wounded animal having been set up a few years earlier by his ex partner and now is being targeted once again, but this is secondary to the plot. It’s the vehicle for which Galt can finally put the demons from the past to bed and start over as a stronger more complete man who’s found his strength and love in his “faithful noir lady” Kathleen(Lucille Ball), who dotes on him and is the strong shoulder to lean on, whenever things get confused or dangerous. Kathleen’s in it for keeps.

Kathleen just won’t quit her boss. She knows he’s in trouble and wants to help him in any way she can. She keeps pushing Galt to open up his steel safe “heart”, of his and let her help. After a wonderful kiss, He just tells her “if you don’t want to lose that stardust look in your eyes, get going while the door’s still open… If you stick around here, you’ll get grafters, shysters two bit thugs, maybe worse, maybe me.”

The one liners are great in this film. And there are so very many of them. Webb is perfect as the pretentious predatory art gallery, he’s a snobbish fop who is more concerned about his collectibles namely his wife Mari though he connects them with his sense of pride, dignity without any moral principal. His wife being his possession and keeping her as such, is the only thing that matters to Cathcart.

The Dark Corner is filled with quirky, interesting moments that fill out the landscape with memorable plot devices. One such wonderful element is when the little blonde girl who keeps playing her penny whistle irks Bendix’s character and adds a light comical edge to the picture. Galt is being hounded by Bendix using the alias name Foss who doesn’t succeed in running him down with his car, detective Frank Reeves is trailing Bradford Galts’ every move to make sure he isn’t into any unsavory business.

Tony Jardine looms over Bradford Galt, the memory of having been framed for manslaughter by Jardine who doused him up with booze, puts him in the car and leaves him to take the rap for killing a truck drive. At times we see Galt as he sits in his big mostly empty office except for his desk. This shot makes him look small and swallowed up. Again, Joseph MacDonald’s cinematography frame the shot within an atmosphere of entrapment.

memorable lines:

KathleenI’ve never been followed before.”

Bradford Galt “That’s a terrible reflection on American manhood.”

 

Hardy Cathcart “How I detest the dawn. The grass always looks like it’s been left out all night.”

 

Bradford Galt “{to Anthony Jardine} “For six bits you’d hang your mother on a meat hook.”

 

Bradford Galt: “I’m playing this by the book, and I won’t even trip over a comma!”

 

Bradford Galt “There goes my last lead. I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner, and I don’t know who’s hitting me.”

 

Bradford Galt “I’m clean as a peeled egg. No debts, no angry husbands, no payoffs… nothin’.”

 

Bradford Galt: “I can be framed easier than “Whistler’s Mother”.

 

Mrs.Kingsly: Isn’t my Turner divine? Look at it! It grows on you.”

Hardy Cathcart: “You make it sound like a species of fungus.”

 

Hardy “I found the portrait long before I met Mari, and I worshiped it. When I did meet her it was as if I’d always known her. And wanted her.”

Party Guest “Oh how romantic”

Hardy “If you prefer to be maudlin about it. Perhaps.”

 

Bradford Galt You know, I think I’ll fire you and get me a Tahitian secretary.”

Kathleen “You won’t like them; those grass skirts are a fire hazard.”

 

Bradford Galt [replying to Anthony Jardine] “You, on the level. Why, for six bits you’d hang your mother on a meathook.”

 

Hardy Cathcart “Take, uh, Tony for instance. I never imagined him to be interested in… Lucy Wilding.”

Mari Cathcart “But he loathed her! It’s not true.”

Hardy Cathcart “He loathed her intimately.”

Mari Cathcart “He couldn’t!… she’s too old for him!”

Nightmare Alley: Faustian Carnival Noir: The rise and fall: From Divinity to Geek

The Hanged Man XII or Dying God – this figure is Osiris or Christ and shows redemption through suffering. He is drowned in the waters of affliction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The spook racket – I was made for it.”

Nightmare Alley (1947)

Directed by Edmund Goulding is one of the more moody, nightmarish and sophisticated Noir films of it’s time. Goulding’s direction works like an expose of the sleazier aspects of carnival life, threaded with romance, both surreal and unseemly. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s book and scripted by Jules Furthman (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep). The film is a grim and somber look inside the lives of carnival folk and the demons who ride their backs with drug and alcohol abuse, which breeds inhumanity and the nadir that people are capable of reaching. This beautiful nightmare is both picturesque and polluted with ugly ideologies.

Cinematography by Lee Garmes, (Morocco 1930, Shanghai Express 1932, Scarface 1932, Duel in the Sun 1946, The Paradine Case 1947, The Captive City 1952, Lady in a Cage 1964) Music by Cyril J. Mockridge, and set direction by Thomas Little (Laura 1944, Day the Earth Stood Still 1951). Edited by Barbara McLean.(All About Eve 1950, No Way Out 1950, Niagara 1953)

The film stars Tyrone Power as Stanton Carlisle a ruthless con artist with no morals who stumbles onto a traveling carnival. Not only did Powers want to see Nightmare Alley made, he wanted the leading role to show 20th Century Fox that he was more than just a pretty face. It also stars Joan Blondell (one of my favorites and known for her wise cracking sex appeal) as Zeena Krumbein, Colleen Gray (Kay in The Killing 1956) as Molly, Ian Keith in an intense role as alcoholic mentalist Pete Krumbein and Mike Mazurki as the strongman Bruno.

Nightmare Alley is an enthrallingly morbid fable about the rise and fall of a greedy, socio-pathic charlatan Stanton Carlisle (Power) who uses his good-looks and skillful deception to work his way from traveling carnival barker to high society mentalist. First he seduces Zeena (Joan Blondell) a gentle soothsayer, in order to obtain the key to her and her husband Pete’s (Ian Keith) mind-reading code. Stanton accidentally poisons Pete when he gives him a bottle of wood alcohol. He then moves on to romance Molly (Colleen Gray) the beautiful young girlfriend of the strongman Bruno (Mazurki). Stanton winds up marrying Molly, and the two leave the seedy carnival life for better pickins as successful nightclub mentalist, of course using the code he charmed out of Zeena. But even the nightclub act is not enough to satiate his desire for power. He meets Lilith (Helen Walker) an unscrupulous psychologist (the film’s coded lesbian and cunning femme fatale) who has access to her clients and can feed Stanton confidential details from her patients. The pair begin to blackmail their clients out of money. The ‘spook racket’ is an extremely profitable scheme, but his plans to build a spiritualist empire is at risk when his Molly’s integrity overshadows Lilith’s avarice.

Stanton Carlisle is the film’s charismatic Anti-Hero, the central character who thrusts the films narrative forward though there are three very strong female leads. Stanton is portrayed by Tyrone Power in perhaps one of the most enigmatic performances of his career; an amoral misanthrope who’s inherent skill is to prey on the vulnerability of peoples’ weakness.

The film’s two powerful and kind women have a crucial interdependence on Stanton. They are the ‘caregiver’ archetype of women, who while not in threat of bodily harm, their danger lies more in the betrayal of their trust. However Helen Walker’s heinous psychiatrist who preys on the weakness of others is aptly named Lilith, the most ‘notorious demon’ in Hebrew mythology. Stanton exploits the opportunity that each woman offers up.

It’s a story of a immoral, ill-fated scoundrel who spirals down even farther, in a remote dark corridor where humanity has no place to radiate it’s light. It’s a story of devouring power and the leap into the pit of perdition with no sign of redemption. A truly nihilistic vision. Ultimately at the climax of Nightmare Alley, Stanton has fallen into the depths of self imposed freak show in purgatory.

Mademoiselle Zeena, is portrayed by the earthy, gutsy Joan Blondell who is seduced by Stanton Carlisle, the charming carnival barker, con-man into teaching him the secret of “The Blind Fold Code”. A word code that helps mentalists work a crowd of people who submit questions for the “Mentalist” to answer. This was once a very lucrative stunt that Zeena and husband Pete (Ian Keith) used, which was worth it’s weight in gold.

Zeena is the catalyst, the unwitting Prophetess who gives away the word code to Stanton. A Faustian contract that ultimately seals his condemned fate. Stanton will sign his soul away for the secret. For him it is a one way ticket to obtaining a dark providence for the sake of a brief dance with power. His appetites fueled by a Protean greed to obtain more and more power and riches. He longs to be a bona fide Mentalist, in high society, not just a two bit cheater in a flea bag carnival. He wants to tap into the profitable Spook Trade where there is more of a potential of wealth. Stanton sees himself becoming more like an Evangelist, a prophet helping ease people’s crisis of faith as well as their grief, while turning a sizable profit.

Zeena, is also a Circe or Hecate — a witch, a seer, like the figure seen in her obedience to the art of Tarot. And her visions see very dark forces ahead for Stanton. She is a tragic figure because she has fallen under Stanton’s alluring influence, yet she is a devoted care taker to her husband Pete who’s drinking has cast a shadow over their career and marriage. Zeena is a woman trapped by her superstitions and her reverence to the arcane mysteries of life. She’s also a woman driven by her devotions and desires.

Stanton Carlisle: You’ve got a heart as big…

Zeena Krumbein: Sure, as big as an artichoke, a leaf for everyone.


The opening scene we behold The Miracle Woman Zeena, standing on the platform by her tent, like a Greek goddess, a soothsayer, weary with visions of things that have played out in her life. Circumstances the Tarot Cards have foretold, that she is driven by the past winds of fate to observe. Zeena is at the mercy of her willing subjugation to her plight, and the sacrifices she’s made in life as caretaker and mystic witness.

Molly (played by Coleen Gray) is the sweet young girl in the carny act, billed as the Electro Girl who sports a galvanic bra which can withstand electrical shocks so she doesn’t get fried in her seat. Letting the arc of electricity flow between her hands is a mesmerizing scene. It gives Molly her almost fairy like quality. The mirror with which to reflect what ever decency might still be inherently shrouded in Stanton’s dark heart. She can only see his beauty and his passion for working the crowd and his gift for showmanship. She doesn’t understand his ruthless nature, or that he is exploiting her affections. Molly is in danger of being manipulated by Stanton who plunges into marrying Molly for the purpose of using her in his new act. Her face almost lit like an icon of a painted Roman angel, cannot see the wheels turning in Stanton’s eyes when he talks about them being together.

Stanton is fascinated by The Geek in the sideshow. This is the carnival’s biggest draw, but a subversive illegal attraction that even some performers won’t work there, if a show carries such a grotesque feature. But Stanton is fixated on him. “How do you get a guy to be a Geek, is he born that way?” It’s an unsettling foreshadowing of events. “I can’t understand how can get so low” we can hear the live chickens squawking as they are being fed to The Geek. It’s a disturbing effective use of background sound.

Stanton, thrives on the energy of the carnival “I like it, it gets me to see those yokels out there gives you a superior feeling, as if YOU were in the know and they were on the outside looking in.” We see Stanton’s as egoist with a ruthless narcissism to take over, be in control, to be omnipotent.

Stanton first starts working on Zeena’s affections in order to procure the secret code. She doesn’t want to hurt Pete. But she is taken in by Stanton’s seductions. If the new act works, she could make enough money to get Pete “the cure”. “Oh Stan do you think I could make the big time again?” Her arm stretched out leaning on a pole, he kisses the soft insides where her arm bends. She is torn between enabling Pete and being seduced by the lustful manipulations by Stanton.

Stanton Carlisle: What kind of deck is this?

Zeena Krumbein: This is the tarot. Oldest kind of cards in the world. Pete says the gypsies brought them out of Egypt. They’re a wonder for giving private readings.

Stanton Carlisle: I’d say. They look plenty weird.

Stanton shows up later at Zeena’s hotel room where she has laid out the Tarot cards. He asks what she’s doing. “This is the Tarot, the oldest kind of cards in the world … whenever I have something to decide or don’t know which way to turn.”

She tells him to cut the cards 3 times. “Look Stan that’s the Wheel of Fortune, Pete and I never had it this good!” Everything looks good for them in the reading, but there is no sign of Pete dead or alive. Zeena starts to panic. Stanton picks up a card that had fallen on the floor face down. Zeena is shaken, “It couldn’t be like that it’s too awful, it’s too crazy what have I done!”

She tells Stan to take his bags and get out, it’s all off. Stan asks what he’s done, she says “Nothing! but I can’t go against the cards.”

Nightmare Alley’s characters each have their own level of spiritual awareness, an intimate relationship with their own nature of worship. Zeena dabbles in the esoteric mystical aspects of superstitions of luck and curses. The Marshall who comes to shut the carnival down, has a very quiet reverence as a good christian man, Molly is the embodiment of moral purity, and Stanton sees himself wielding his own religion as a Nietzcsheqsue Uberman.

Zeena shows Stanton Pete’s card. The Hanged Man, the recurring theme of the film. This again is the foreshadowing of what can happen when humanity is sacrificed for power. She tells Stan when a card falls face down on the floor, what ever is going to happen is going to happen fast and it’s never good. Stans says “that’s for the chumps, to fall for one of your own boob catchers” He’s so superior, so ruthless, he cannot even fathom that the warning might be credible. We don’t really see shades of humanity in him but a curiosity, as Stanton asks “I wonder why I’m like that, never thinking about anybody but myself.” Zeena asks if his folks dropped him on his head. “Yeah, they dropped me.” This gives us a little background, he grew up in an orphanage where he became aware of the Gospel that came with black and blue bruises and it’s useful passages he can avail himself of later. They kiss, and Zeena is once again under his charismatic control.

Molly: You ought to have heard Stan spout the gospel to that old hypocrite. It was like being in Sunday school.

Zeena Krumbein: You must have been raised pretty religious.

Stanton Carlisle: Yeah, in a county orphanage.

Molly: Didn’t you have any folks?

Stanton Carlisle: If I did, they weren’t much interested.

Zeena Krumbein: Where’d you learn all this gospel?

Stanton Carlisle: In the orphanage. That’s what they used to give us on Sunday after beating us black-and-blue all week. Then when I ran away, they threw me in the reform school. But that’s where I got wise to myself. I let the chaplain save me, and got a parole in no time. Boy, how I went for salvation! Comes in kind of handy when you’re in a jam.

A foggy night, crickets chanting, Zeena’s husband Pete, staggering in between the caravans of the carnival stumbles upon Stanton one night. Zeena has cut him off from his drinking. Pete has the dropsies. In the background we hear the Geek wailing, screaming, ungodly screams. He’s got the heebie jeebies again.”

Throughout the film’s darker scenes the usage of music by Cyril Mockeridge, with orchestral arrangements by Maurice Packh underscore moments with a diabolical motif, again in keeping with the Faustian theme. Several waves of glossolalia especially where the Geek runs amok on the carny grounds are simply mind altering.

Stanton gives Pete the bottle he’s stashed in the prop trunk and says here you need this more than me. Pete tells him “You’re a good kid Stan, you’re going places, nothing can keep you out of the big time, just like I used to have.” He reminisces about him and Zeena during their big time, when they had top billing. The Geek comes  stumbling near them singing an incoherent tune, “Poor guy” Stanton says. “If it weren’t for Zeena they’d be saying that about me, Poor Pete, Pete the Geek” He remembered that fellow when he’d first showed up at the carnival. He used to be plenty big time. “Mental Act?” “what difference does it make, old smoked meat now, just a bottle a day rum dumb and he thinks this job is heaven, as long as there’s a bottle a day and a dry place to sleep it off. There’s only one thing this stuff (bottle) will make you forget-how to forget.”

Pete jumps onto the platform, turns the grungy, swinging overhead lamp on and begins his little soliloquy, his old spiel “Throughout the ages certain men have looked into the polished crystal (holds the bottle of liquor to his breast and gazes) and see, is it something about the quality of the crystal itself, or does the gazer merely use it to turn his own gaze inward” now holding his hands to his temples as if to gleaning visions” in a seriously, sage like tone, as if giving a sermon (again the comparative to religion).

“Who knows , but visions come, slowly shifting their form, visions come, WAIT! the shifting shapes, begin to clear.”

Pete Krumbein: Throughout the ages, man has sought to look behind the veil that hides him from tomorrow. And through the ages, certain men have looked into the polished crystal… and seen. Is it some quality of the crystal itself, or does the gazer merely use it to turn his gaze inward? Who knows? But visions come. Slowly shifting their forms… visions come. Wait. The shifting shapes begin to clear. I see fields of grass… rolling hills… and a boy. A boy is running barefoot through the hills. A dog is with him. A… DOG… is… with… him.

Stanton Carlisle: Yes… go on… his name was Jib. Go on!

Pete Krumbein: [Choked laughter] Humph. See how easy it is to *hook* ’em!

He begins to describe fields of rollings hills to Stanton, a young barefooted boy and a dog. Stanton caught up in Pete’s oration begins to tell him, “His name is Jim, go on” Pete breaks from his trance and begins to laugh sardonically, “see how easy it is to hook em!” he cackles. “Stock reading, fits everybody. Every boy has a dog”, as he laughs. But Pete’s demonstration deepens Stanton’s hunger to obtain the ability to entrance people by elocution and persuasion. To divine people’s souls by reading their body language. To Stanton this is a form of religion. To be a holy man of the mental act. An art form, a business and again, spiritual rescuer to those who are in a crisis of faith — only… for a price.

That night, Stanton unknowingly slips Pete a bottle of wood alcohol that Zeena uses to burn the papers of written questions from the audience. Stanton accidentally reaches into the prop trunk and grabs the wrong bottle. The bottle that Pete had been drinking that night. He dies and leaves Zeena to renew the act with Stanton as her partner working the crowd. But the guilt that starts to build up in Stanton’s psyche haunts him, and eventually becomes the spiraling down, the turn of his destiny and his ruination. While climbing to the top in society being billed at a Chicago nightclub as a Mentalist he is attracting a lot of attention.

Zeena shows up at Stanton and Molly’s hotel for a surprise visit. Again she lays out the Tarot cards “You’re going to the top, like a skyrocket” The one card face down is The Hanged Man, Pete’s card. This rattles Stanton. Molly believes it and Zeena warns Stanton not to take the act in the direction he is thinking. He calls Zeena and Bruno carnival freaks and tells them to get out. But Zeena comes back having forgotten her Tarot deck. Again, Zeena finds The Hanged Man face down on the floor. We hear the music glossolalia again, the disturbing voices resurrected in the back drop. Later, Stanton goes to get a massage and when the masseuse puts alcohol on Stan’s skin to close his pores, he thinks of Pete about the night he inadvertently switched the bottles of alcohol that killed Pete. The act which he benefited from because it created his opportunity to use “the code” and rise to the top.

At the nightclub in Chicago, in the audience one night, there is a woman, Dr Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker) a cunning psychoanalyst, who challenges Stanton. He goes to see her at her office and a new unholy relationship is forged. Not based on sexuality but the mutual bond of greed and opportunistic paranoia. She is the femme fatale of this noir film. She records all her patients sessions and Stanton wants to be able to use that information to his advantage, by having inside details of people’s lives that he can use in his Mentalist act. The name Lilith again is an interesting element. Lilith in Hebrew mythology is related to a class of female demon. When Stanton accuses her of secretly recording her patient’s sessions she espouses “Anything my patients reveal is as sacred as if given under the seal of the confessional.” Again references to religious structure. And the twisted bond they forge from this point on is based on “it takes one, to catch one.”

Ritter gives Stanton secret information about a wealthy patient of hers. Ezra Grindle (Taylor Holmes). Stan sees it as “An absolute blown in the glass clincher” Stan doesn’t see this skeptic as a challenge because his ego is so poised that he is certain he can con this old man into believing that he can manifest the spirit of his long dead love Dory. Using his command of the Gospel, Ezra a man who obviously struggles with religion, is told to “prepare himself more with prayer and good works”To Stanton this translates into receiving enough money for his own radio station and tabernacle.

Trying to use Molly as an accomplice to dupe the very wealthy man out of a fortune Molly threatens to leave Stan. He manipulates her love for him by telling her “What should I do, should I let the man’s soul be lost forever, or should I stake my own to save it!” It is this brilliant subterfuge that convinces Molly to stand by him for this ruse. She is so bound by her blindness, that she follows Stanton a bit further. She agrees to play the ghost of Dora.

From here on in, Stanton begins his descent down the darkened pit, where he losses his wicked identity and transform into a damned, lowly geek.

 

Stanton Carlisle: Listen to me, I’m no good. I never pretended to be. But, I love you. I’m a hustler. I’ve always been one. But, I love you. I may be the thief of the world, but, with you I’ve always been on the level.

McGraw – Final Carnival Owner: Wait. I just happened to think of something. I might have a job you can take a crack at. Course it isn’t much and I’m not begging you to take it, but it’s a job.

Stanton Carlisle: That‘s all I want.

McGraw – Final Carnival Owner: And we’ll keep you in coffee and cake. Bottle every day, place to sleep it off in. What do you say? Anyway, it’s only temporary, just until we can get a real geek.

Stanton Carlisle: Geek?

McGraw – Final Carnival Owner: You know what a geek is, don’t you?

Stanton Carlisle: Yeah. Sure, I… I know what a geek is.

McGraw – Final Carnival Owner: Do you think you can handle it?

Stanton Carlisle: Mister, I was made for it.

McGraw – Final Carnival Owner: Well, he certainly fooled me. I never recognized him. Stanton. Stanton the Great.

Roustabout at Final Carnival: How can a guy get so low?

McGraw – Final Carnival Owner: He reached too high. Good night, boys. Lock up.

Roustabout at Final Carnival: Good night.

William Lindsay Gresham discusses his creative angst researching Nightmare Alley, as backdrop to his own movement toward faith. Here it’s cited his discovery of Tarot:

“During my analysis I had a brief period of prosperity: I managed to write a novel, savage, violent, and neurotic, which made money. Yet with a temporary release from financial worries, my own inner nightmare grew worse. It was not true, then, that men live by bread alone?” (Source)