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  • Writer's pictureBruce Klein

Nightmare Alley: Your Past Makes You Vulnerable

Guillermo del Toro's latest film, Nightmare Alley, is a remake of a 1947 Tyrone Power film. The remake does a better job of explaining personal motivation and adds an emotional dimension to the characters not in the original. It’s a two hour, twenty-minute thriller ,but the longer the thrill the shorter the payoff.

One of the problems is that director, del Toro, uses too much screen time for back story and motivation. Trimming the movie would help make the pace pop. The original 1947 movie had no back story which led to surprises about the characters. The movie also contains too much symbolism which could have been cut without losing plot elements because the audience picks up quickly on who is who and what is what without symbols. They can see who this bunch of characters are and continue to watch to find out who tumbles and who gets clear.

Bradley Cooper puts in a very good performance as the main character Station Carlyle. Cate Blanchet stands out although she has been better in other performances such as playing Jasmine in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. The original black and white version fits better with the content of the film. When you see it, consider what’s operating behind the action and the script. As you better understand who this gang is, you’ll experience the carny flavor of the whole movie and learn the difference between entertainment and larceny.

The director tried to put too much of his mark on the film. The action speaks for itself and the script backs it up. Action and script are where the vision belongs.

The movie needed more nuance. It’s a gritty story but a light touch is all that was needed because the grit’s built into the action. The conflict in this film is very important. In the universe of this story, few are without fault. There are no heroes or heroines. Del Toro put his mark on the film but he didn’t think it through. It’s not easy to remake a movie and improve it. But he went with his take on the material to the detriment of the story.

Oddly enough, a sparser remake is better. A modest amount of change works. This interpretation steals from the original’s soul, its reason for being. Once a director puts his twist on it, even excellent performances wouldn’t save the picture. These actors did everything to make this picture work but the director and new script impeded them. The twist was in and cannot be removed. The twist ruined the triumph of the film. It detracted from the pivotal scenes. Adding more graphic violence spoiled the agitation and fear inside the characters. The added graphic violence hollowed out their turmoil. It dulled our view of their essence. When you join the carnies, your past life becomes unconnected from your new life. You’re in a brotherhood and sisterhood of performers and entertainers. The crooks are the exception to the rule.

Del Toro makes an interesting picture that can stand up to the original but not surpass it. Criterion Collection recently gave the original an excellent technical upgrade which I suggest watching instead.


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