In 1947's Nightmare Alley, Tyrone Power plays Stanton Carlisle, a carnival barker with a lot of ambition and few morals. He scams his way to the top of the mentalist trade until he aims too high and gets played himself by an equally cold psychologist. Turning to alcohol, like some of the old carney hands he'd scorned, he's left with no options but to take the job of the carnival geek, the wild man who bites heads off live chickens. Once he'd looked at the geek act and wondered how any man could sink so low; now he knows.
Nightmare Alley was Power's bid to break out of the overstuffed swashbuckling period dramas he'd gotten locked into, a chance to tread on the rough edges of noir. Of course the studio was only going to have so much of this--the plot conveniently allows him to spend about seventy percent of the movie in tuxedos and fine suits, and a tacked on happy ending feels awkward and wrong. Still, Power is a commanding presence--many women adored him (I'm talking about you, Mom). He's not my type, but I can understand why they swooned--it's easy to see why he was a star and also easy to see what he might have been as an actor if he'd gotten better opportunities. Although a little long, Nightmare Alley is a minor classic and unexpectedly sad movie that isn't easy to dismiss.