The stars are aligned for Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” his adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 noir novel that was quickly turned into a 1947 movie starring Tyrone Power. The Searchlight movie, out December 17 in theaters only, is among the top early contenders for Best Picture and Best Director according to the Gold Derby odds, and that’s perhaps expected: del Toro’s last film, the science-fiction hybrid “The Shape of Water” won both awards at the 2018 Oscars.
But about those stars: del Toro has assembled a murderer’s row of past Oscar winners and nominees, including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, David Straithairn, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, and Willem Dafoe, to tell the story of a carnival worker turned con man (Cooper) and the tangled web of deception in which he becomes ensnarled.
“This has no supernatural element. It’s based completely in a reality world,” del Toro told Vanity Fair. ‘There is nothing fantastic. It’s a very different movie from my usual, but yes, the title and my name would create that [impression].”
Despite that, audiences may be forgiven for assuming there’s something nefarious and otherworldly afoot, at least based on a cursory glace at the just-released trailer. “Is he man or beast?” Dafoe’s character, who oversees the fringe carnival where Cooper’s Stanton Carlise initially works, intones twice in the teaser — before and after images of tension, fright and oddity flash across the screen. But Stanton isn’t a werewolf, so much as anti-hero whose soul is corrupted by his decisions. “The carnival is almost like a microcosm of the world,” del Toro told Vanity Fair. “Everybody’s there to swindle everybody. But at the same time in the carnival, the [workers] know they need each other. In the city, much less so.”
The original adaptation of “Nightmare Alley” received mixed reviews and was considered a financial flop at the time of its release. But the years have been kind to the noir cult favorite — and its strong performances from Power and Helen Walker (played the role Blanchett takes over for the 2021 version) are often praised. That’s why expectations for the film and its cast remain incredibly high despite “Nightmare Alley” not participating in the fall festival run: Cooper is currently in fourth place in the Gold Derby Best Actor odds, Blanchett is eighth in the Best Actress category, and Mara is sixth in the Best Supporting Actress race.
“Nightmare Alley” is out on December 17.
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