Power is simply terrific as Stanton Carlisle, a sideshow hustler who makes it to the big time through underhanded methods that ultimately bring about his horrific ruination. Carlisle gets a menial job with a cheap carnival and becomes fascinated with a mind-reading act performed by Pete
and Zeena (Keith and Blondell). Becoming the show's barker, Carlisle entices carnival patrons to another attraction as well: an illegal geek show featuring a "half-man, half-beast" who works in a pit and bites the heads off live chickens. Here the geek is a fallen carney performer, a dipsomaniac
who conducts his ghastly routines so he can be paid off with a quart of booze each evening. In no time, Carlisle is made a part of the mind-reading act; plying Pete with friendship and liquor, he later replaces the older man in the act after accidentally giving him some poisonous wood alcohol.
Carlisle then seduces Zeena into recreating with him a more spectacular version of the act which relies on a secret word code which enables the spiritualist to discern the questions Carlisle has gathered from patrons in the audience. Molly (Gray), a pretty sideshow artist, falls for Carlisle, who,
incurring the wrath of the carnival people, marries the girl and moves to Chicago. A successful nightclub artist there, he fascinates Lilith (Walker), a sultry psychologist who agrees to give him confidential information about her wealthy clients in return for a substantial cut of the take. Molly,
however, finds it increasingly hard to bilk people, and Lilith discovers some damning information about Carlisle from Zeena.
Although it could not include all the terrifying detail of Gresham's shocking novel, Furthman's script potently reveals the sleazy world of the spiritual con artist. Carefully constructing Power's rise and fall, director Goulding is merciless in his inspection of a character who is rotten through
and through. Power, who had Fox buy the rights of the novel for him, gives the performance of his career, proving that he was not merely a matinee idol but a player who could dig deep inside himself and produce a memorable and telling characterization. Goulding was then Power's favorite director;
they had worked together in the worthy 1946 adaptation of Somerset Maugham's THE RAZOR'S EDGE. Goulding was noted for eliciting excellent performances from his actors, as he did in GRAND HOTEL, DARK VICTORY, THE GREAT LIE, and CLAUDIA.
Walker is a standout as the cold-blooded psychologist and Blondell excels as the frowzy but calculating spritualist, the essence of cheapness. Gray is also fine as the stupid but loving wife who can forgive any crime. Mockridge's score is eerie and perfectly suited to the shadowy images captured
in Garmes's photography.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Power is simply terrific as Stanton Carlisle, a sideshow hustler who makes it to the big time through underhanded methods that ultimately bring about his horrific ruination. Carlisle gets a menial job with a cheap carnival and becomes fascinated with a min… (more)