Mark Osteen, a professor of English and founder of the Film Studies Program at Loyola University in Baltimore, Md., released a book late last year entitled “Nightmare Alley: Film Noir and the American Dream.” Here is a caption from Amazon.com of what the book entails -
Desperate young lovers on the lam (They Live by Night), a cynical con man making a fortune as a mentalist (Nightmare Alley), a penniless pregnant girl mistaken for a wealthy heiress (No Man of Her Own), a wounded veteran who has forgotten his own name (Somewhere in the Night)—this gallery of film noir characters challenges the stereotypes of the wise-cracking detective and the alluring femme fatale. Despite their differences, they all have something in common: a belief in self-reinvention. Nightmare Alley is a thorough examination of how film noir disputes this notion at the heart of the American Dream.
Central to many of these films, Mark Osteen argues, is the story of an individual trying, by dint of hard work and perseverance, to overcome his origins and achieve material success. In the wake of World War II, the noir genre tested the dream of upward mobility and the ideas of individualism, liberty, equality, and free enterprise that accompany it.
The films Osteen reveals in his book (released November 2012) are classified as “film noir,” which Wikipedia offers this information: “The term film noir, French for "black film," first applied to Hollywood films by French critic Nino Frank in 1946, was unrecognized by most American film industry professionals of that era. Cinema historians and critics defined the category retrospectively. Before the notion was widely adopted in the 1970s, many of the classic film noirs were referred to as melodramas.”
American motion pictures defined as film noir originated in the late 1930s to the 1950s. These Hollywood mystery/crime dramas always had plots of detectives, femme fatales, gangsters, dames, and hungry for money poor citizens; with tales of passion, guns, get rich quick schemes, murder and failure. Many of these films, now considered crime drama classics, can be seen on Turner Classic Movies (TCM); shown in their original or updated versions without commercials. Films today that replicate these themes are considered neo-noir films.
The original novel of Nightmare Alley (released in 1946) was written by William Lindsey Gresham (August 20, 1909 – September 14, 1962), who was born in Baltimore but moved to New York as a child. Wikipedia describes the book as this –
It is a study of the lowest depths of showbiz and its sleazy inhabitants- the dark, shadowy world of a second rate carnival filled with hustlers, scheming grifters, and Machiavellian femme fatales.
The success of the book led to a movie with the same title in 1947. The movie in many ways followed the premise of the book; set at a carnival which starred Tyrone Power (the hustling con man) with Coleen Gray and Joan Blondell.
Osteen did a reading and signing of his book at the Enoch Pratt Central Library in Baltimore June 10.