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A fellow film buff referred the original Nightmare Alley to Guillermo del Toro’s replica of this year. I didn’t mistype. I said referred, not preferred. It was an accidental reference on the film buff’s part, not knowing I’m a bonehead who didn’t even know there was an original.

(I no longer tend to look up things, attempting to put the magic back into the movies.)

Like the fellow film buff, I went back and viewed the original (renting from the library) and was surprised by the drawing, impressive story and atmosphere. Because apart from del Toro’s immaculate art direction and richer hues, it’s the same exact movie! It didn’t need a remake. The black and white 40’s take on carnivals and psychological makeups of the people they attract was highly engaging and original.

Here’s my dilemma: Why was I mostly bored and unsatisfied by del Toro’s second half and a hokey final act when the events, themes, and character arcs are practically identical to the enjoyable classic?

I lost some interest in the story, but I knew the ending this time. So what’s going on with me? Am I going easy on old movies? Am I being overly critical of new ones?

This is what I got/know so far …

Nightmare Alley (1947)

-almost 40 minutes shorter than the remake

-challenged the film noir genre and dabbled into psychological thrillers before there were much of them

Nightmare Alley (2021)

-has a stronger score and up-to-date visuals

Both 1947 and 2021 Versions

-have impressive performances by a superb cast.

-have realistic, thought-provoking twists.

-have a few no-duh moments (same storyline).

I believe I was feeling that the new Nightmare Alley went Hollywood hard – an extravaganza made by an overrated director (Hellboy movies, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) for suckers (i.e., moviegoers) who are fed knowledge by lamebrains in charge (i.e., Hollywood charlatans).

But it’s not. The original screenplay has no-duh flaws, too. That means the base story wasn’t influenced by new money or celebrity status. The first script was adapted by Jules Furthman, a highly-talented screenwriter (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep). Actually, the original, original story is from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel (hence, “adapted”). Maybe that has the same no-duh points. I haven’t read it.

Wait, are you telling me I have to go back and watch the new one again before I can decide if both have no-duh moments? I have to confirm the dull bits of the latest version are due to the longer running time? But don’t I already know that right now?

Ugh! I think you’re right. Not that del Toro is Academy-Award worthy, but that I have to respect the current times of the classics as well as the current times of the current movies.

I’m probably going to read the novel, too, aren’t I?

Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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