Books into Celluloid: Nightmare Alley

I’m going to have to read the book and see the movie!

Nightmare AlleyA sleazy but smart pulp novel makes for a sleazy but smart noir film.

The story

At a seedy traveling carnival in Depression-era rural America, amateur magician Stan Carlisle is making a name for himself. But he’s not content fleecing the rubes for nickels and dimes. He wants more. When he gets hold of a number code he sets himself up as a mentalist; he hooks up with the carnival’s Electric Girl Molly and the two of them start working in vaudeville. But that’s still not enough for Stan and his grudge against anyone who has more respect and money than he does. He joins forces with Lilith, a coldhearted psychiatrist. Using the information that Lilith gives him, Stan reinvents himself as a  spiritualist with the power to help people contact their dead loved ones. And when an industry magnate offers Stan a fortune to put him in touch with his dead lover, Stan leaps at the chance…and at his downfall.

The book

Nightmare AlleyIn terms of its basic story arc, William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley doesn’t have much to set it apart — cynical protagonist with a chip on his shoulder tries to better his lot in life by breaking society’s rules, only to get a comeuppance and end up worse off than he was. It’s the book’s carnival setting that gives the story its unique flavor: Gresham’s protagonist starts as an ambitious small-time magician and ends up the lowest form of carnival life — the geek. And though Stanton Carlisle soon shakes the carny dust off his feet to become first a vaudevillian and then a spiritualist minister, he never stops being a flim-flam man — all that has changed are the monetary stakes and the penalty for failure. It’s significant that the Tarot card illustrations that open each chapter start with The Fool and end with The Hanged Man.

via Books into Celluloid: Nightmare Alley.

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