Del Toro's "Nightmare Alley"

Director Guillermo del Toro’s Toronto-lensed "Nightmare Alley", based on the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen and David Strathairn, releasing in theaters December 17, 2021:

" ambitious 'carny' (Cooper)...

"...with a talent for manipulating people...

"...with a few well-chosen words...

"...hooks up with a female psychiatrist (Blanchett) who is even more dangerous than he is..." 

"...'in the 1947 feature, 'Nightmare Alley' starring Tyrone Power, Joan Blondell and Coleen Gray, 'Stanton Carlisle' watches the geek show at a carnival asking worker 'Clem Hoately' where 'geeks' come from. Clem explains that geeks are 'made', when a sideshow owner finds an alcoholic bum and offers him a temporary job with a steady supply of liquor.

"Initially, the bum is only asked to pretend to be a geek, using a razor blade to slice chickens' necks and then faking the drinking of the blood. After a few weeks, the owner threatens to end the job and replace the bum with a 'real' geek, and the fear of sobering up terrifies the bum into actually biting the chickens. Thus, a geek is made.

"Stan decides to perform sleight of hand tricks in the sideshow studying under the carnival's mentalist 'Zeena' to learn a refined 'code' act, where performers memorize verbal cues that allow them to appear psychic by accurately answering written audience questions. Stan also begins to pick up Zeena's talent for cold reading.

He eventually leaves the carnival with the beautiful and naïve 'Electric Girl' 'Molly Cahill' to perform a team code act.

"Their act becomes very successful, but Stan grows bored and transforms himself into 'Reverend Carlisle', an upstanding 'Spiritualist' preacher offering séance sessions with the help of 'medium Molly' aka 'Miss Cahill'. 

Stan gains a devoted following, but the stress of leading a false life leads him to seek the help of psychologist named 'Lilith Ritter', who seduces, then begins controlling him. 

Stan pleads constantly for them to go away together, and Lilith eventually agrees, suggesting the Rev. Carlisle swindle a rich man for the getaway money. 

"They settle on 'Ezra Grindle', a ruthless auto tycoon with a skeptical interest in the occult. Stan manages to convince Grindle of his powers, and the businessman becomes a devoted spiritualist.

"Stan keeps Grindle hooked by promising to reunite him with his deceased college sweetheart 'Dorrie', who died in a botched back-alley abortion Grindle convinced her to seek. A reluctant Molly plays Dorrie in a series of sessions but eventually breaks character, destroying the illusion and Grindle vows revenge for Stan's lies.

"Stan tells Molly to go back to carnival life. At Lillith's suggestion he decides to go into hiding with Grindle's money but discovers that Lillith has stolen it. When he confronts her, she tells him that he is deluded and attempts to have him committed to a mental institution and he narrowly escapes. 

He flees and resorts to performing as a mentalist at increasingly shoddy venues, barely evading the men Grindle continually sends after him. Eventually he becomes a hobo, staying afloat by giving Tarot readings and selling horoscopes. He descends into alcoholism and depression.

"His life in shambles, Stan finds a carnival owner and asks to join the sideshow as a palm reader. The owner gives Stan some whiskey but refuses his proposal, saying the show is full. But as Stan begins to drunkenly stumble out, the owner changes his tune and invites Stan back in with a job offer: "Of course, it's only temporary – just until we get a real geek..."

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