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Offering a Post-War, Money-Hungry U.S.

In its day, film noir had its epitomes, but many of the most distinctive films to catch the label since—like Edmund Goulding's notorious, outrageously odd morality tale Nightmare Alley (1947)—can only barely be genre-defined. Where did this sideshow jar of a movie come from? From Communist/alcoholic/suicidal journalist William Lindsay Gresham's novel, written seven years before his beaten, cancer-sick wife left him to marry C.S. Lewis. The arc of the story is almost Aesopian: An amoral drifter (Tyrone Power) latches onto a carnival, begins scamming as a mentalist, uses everyone in his path, hits the big time ripping off the rich, gets his comeuppance, and winds up geeking for a cot and a bottle. Shot by shadowmaster Lee Garmes and co-starring Joan Blondell as a helpless carny tramp, the film offers up a post-war, money-hungry America too hollow and fetid for ordinary noir, and Powers's smiling, dead-eyed-schoolboy earnestness gives his soulless shuckster a creepy validity. The DVD's lowball extras include the original trailer and commentary by noir lexicographers James Ursini and Alain Silver. Simultaneously released are Sam Fuller's House of Bamboo (1955)—an underworld "noir" shot in Tokyo—and the not dissimilar, William Keighley-directed The Street With No Name (1948), in which the FBI infiltrates neurotic mobster Richard Widmark's syndicate.

 
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