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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Penny for your thoughts » » "Nightmare Alley" Reissued (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Mind Guerrilla
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New York Review of Books is reissuing the classic novel "Nightmare Alley". According to Amazon, it will be released on April 6. This cautionary tale has been hard to come by in recent years. Up until now I have only seen it as part of an anthology or in graphic novel format. It was once made into a movie which I think greatly lacked the impact of the book.

Description from NYRB:
Nightmare Alley begins with an extraordinary description of a freak-show geek—alcoholic and abject and the object of the voyeuristic crowd's gleeful disgust and derision—going about his work at a county fair. Young Stan Carlisle is working as a carny, and he wonders how a man could fall so low. There's no way in hell, he vows, that anything like that will ever happen to him.

And since Stan is clever and ambitious and not without a useful streak of ruthlessness, soon enough he's going places. Onstage he plays the mentalist with a cute bimbo (before long his harried wife), then he graduates to full-blown spiritualist, catering to the needs of the rich and gullible in their well-upholstered homes. It looks like the world is Stan's for the taking. At least for now.

http://www.nybooks.com/shop/product?usca_p=t&product_id=9431
David Alexander
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The problem with the film is that the producers insisted on a "happy ending."
edh
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I saw this on cable a long time ago. IIRC, I don't believe it ends with a happy ending.

BTW, It's a great movie.
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Eddie Garland
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Love the movie and now I look forward to reading the book. Thanks for the heads up.
dmkraig
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Actually, it wasn't the producers who demanded a happy ending, it was the audience. After one or two test audiences, the reports where that they just hated the ending. As a result, they quickly shot a new ending, not exactly "happy," but at least hopeful and less bleak.

I have a copy of the book. The movie is actually pretty close to the book, both of which have a very clever "gotcha!" plot. What the book has is far more detail.

I have a DVD of the movie, too, and I do like both movie and book.
Tom Jorgenson
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Good timing on the post, I just finished watching the Netflix DVD last night. First time I'd ever seen it, and I was surprised at how good a flik it was. It'll be good to read the book. Thanks for the heads-up!
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Dr Spektor
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Movie is great - just stop when he takes the final job and then you'll be happy with the ending Smile
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Necromancer
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While I appreciated the effort that went into it (Tyron Power made this a pet project and used his leverage as a star to assemble an A-list of people to work on it), and while I definitely recommend seeing it, I don't think the movie version of "Nightmare Alley" ever reaches the heights and depths of Gresham's masterpiece.

Granted, movies by their nature have to strip down their literary source material to fit within time parameters. But in this case, an enormous amount of the book is lost. You don't get the same insight into characters (Gresham shifts perspective throughout the book so you can get peeks into minds here and there). Many of the relationships are simplified (Stan's therapist) or eliminated completely (Stan's family). As for the overall tone, the book is so full of sweat and grit that it makes you want to take a nice, long shower afterward; the movie isn't.

It's well worth buying a noir anthology to read the Gresham original. As it turned out, the one I purchased is a terrific bargain: other stories include "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," "The Postman Always Rings Twice," and "The Big Clock," all of which were turned into classic films. And it's a well-crafted hardcover for not much more than the paperback listed at the top of this thread. Here's the link:

http://www.amazon.com/Crime-Novels-Ameri......83011469

Enjoy,
Neil
Creator of The Xpert (20 PAGES of reviews!) and the Hands-Off Multiple ESP System ("Quality and design far exceed any ESP cards on the market"-Genii), both at Penguin.
Lord Of The Horses
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Quote:
On 2010-03-22 18:03, Necromancer wrote:
While I appreciated the effort that went into it (Tyron Power made this a pet project and used his leverage as a star to assemble an A-list of people to work on it), and while I definitely recommend seeing it, I don't think the movie version of "Nightmare Alley" ever reaches the heights and depths of Gresham's masterpiece.


I agree on this.

What I disagree with (but you did not say that Neil) is about the happy ending of the movie...

I'm missing something here or did I watch another movie with the same title?
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Joshua Quinn
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Thanks for the heads-up. This is a book I've meant to read for years, ever since I saw Harry Anderson perform the "how to make a geek" speech as a monologue. Dark, dark stuff. I tried to look it up online, but only found the graphic novel and film versions, which were pretty whitewashed by comparison.
Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution. Unfortunately every problem also contains the seeds of an infinite number of non-solutions, so that first part really isn't super helpful.
David Alexander
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Then there's the phrase that we all use from time to time that came out of the book, unless someone knows an earlier source. We couldn't find one in a earlier discussion on the Genii Forum.

See page 271 of Nightmare Alley: "A guy who's good at the cold reading will never starve."

In the final scene in the book on page 274 Carlisle drunkenly describes himself as, "Best cold reader in the country."

The book came out in 1946 and no one had an earlier usage.
Eddie Garland
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It is also a new stage Musical....as noted in this months Magic Magazine.
Necromancer
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Not so new, Eddie; it premiered 40 years ago. The production expected to open in April at the Geffen has been reworked since then (and has been postponed once already, which usually isn't a good sign)—
http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/sho......ley.html

As for the music...well, you be the judge.
http://www.briellemusic.com/music/nightmare.html

Best,
Neil
Creator of The Xpert (20 PAGES of reviews!) and the Hands-Off Multiple ESP System ("Quality and design far exceed any ESP cards on the market"-Genii), both at Penguin.
seadog93
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I saw the movie on youtube, great stuff.
It's been a little while, but I'm going to have to go with Lord Of The Horses on this and say I don't remember the ending being happy.
Of course I'm sure the book is better, but "Monster Midway" is great. To bad that one is not being re-released. Luckily my library has a copy.
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sthielman
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Gresham himself was a very interesting person, an amateur magician who was the first husband of Joy Davidman, future wife of C.S. Lewis. Gresham supposedly learned about the sideshow world from a fellow Communist fighter in the Spanish Civil War. He decided to follow Christ in the late 40s, but then turned to Scientology, spiritualism, Zen. He befriended James Randi in the 1950s but ultimately died by suicide after being diagnosed with cancer in 1962. A sad, sad story. There was a good article about him in the Skeptical Inquirer in the July/August 2003 issue.
Necromancer
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A brief biographical sketch:
http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/arch......019.html

Best,
Neil

P.S. I've spoken with his stepdaughter, who fondly remembers visits from her father's friend, Jay Marshall.
Creator of The Xpert (20 PAGES of reviews!) and the Hands-Off Multiple ESP System ("Quality and design far exceed any ESP cards on the market"-Genii), both at Penguin.
Prof. Pabodie
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I love that so many of you guys know about this novel and know so much about it and its writer. I am a pulp fiction enthusiast. I've had a paperback edition of this novel for years and didn't know it was so hard to find.
Thanks for supplying the links to Gresham's bio.
David Alexander
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When I was visiting the American Museum of Magic as Bob Lund's guest some years back Gresham's name came up. I mentioned that I'd heard that when he wrote "Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls" he wrote out facts about Houdini, one fact to an index card. He pinned the index cards to a wall in roughly chronological order and then, taking a few down at a time, proceeded to write the book.

Bob smiled and took me over to two card files. As Bob pulled them open I saw hundreds of index cards each with a neat pin hole in the top center.
Todd Robbins
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There have been several attempts at making the book into the musical. The one that was done 40 years ago has no connection to this latest version. I know the composer and attended a staged reading of his show a few years ago. It is a remarkable piece and the number about doing a code act was great (and will probably anger some folks here.) It was a good musical, but Nightmare Alley is a GREAT book. The chapter that deals with Carlyle losing his mind is brilliant writing.

As someone that got his start in a sideshow and is now working in the spook racket, I find this book cuts a little to close to the bone.

Quote:
On 2010-03-23 00:31, Necromancer wrote:
Not so new, Eddie; it premiered 40 years ago. The production expected to open in April at the Geffen has been reworked since then (and has been postponed once already, which usually isn't a good sign)—
http://www.guidetomusicaltheatre.com/sho......ley.html

As for the music...well, you be the judge.
http://www.briellemusic.com/music/nightmare.html

Best,
Neil
Todd Robbins
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Monster Midway is another great book. It has the best description of a working cold reading that I have ever read.

Quote:
On 2010-03-23 01:01, seadog93 wrote:
I saw the movie on youtube, great stuff.
It's been a little while, but I'm going to have to go with Lord Of The Horses on this and say I don't remember the ending being happy.
Of course I'm sure the book is better, but "Monster Midway" is great. To bad that one is not being re-released. Luckily my library has a copy.
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