Daniel Kelly reports from the front seats on Day 2:
"Today, I returned to the Music Box Theater to revisit two familiar films, "Nightmare Alley" and "Gun Crazy." In addition to both movies having lengthy sequences set on the carnival circuit, the films also have other points of commonality: both movies received some initial critical praise, but failed to meet their producers' expectations at the box office; in subsequent years, however, both movies were rediscovered by critics and the public and gained greater respect as genuine "cult classics."
Alan K. Rode played the role of the accomplished raconteur as he regaled the audience with production and cast notes for the films before holding a question and answer session with the audience members. With reference to "Gun Crazy," I am still somewhat amazed that Peggy Cummins never managed to achieve full fledged stardom in Hollywood. She appeared in a number of prestige pictures made with "A" budgets, but never fully prospered while under contract to Fox studios. Perhaps the decision to remove Cummins from the title role in "Forever Amber," which was to be her American debut film, in favor of Linda Darnell, deprived her of her first and last best chance to become a household name. Soon after her appearance in "Gun Crazy," Cummins returned to home to Great Britain and thereafter worked in English films exclusively. Cinematic fame and success proved equally elusive for John Dall. For Cummins and Dall, "Gun Crazy" proved to be the pinnacle of their Hollywood careers.
The Blacklist curtailed the careers of many of the supporting players in "Gun Crazy," including Virginia Farmer, Nedrick Young, and Morris Carnovsky. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's contributions to the script were concealed by the use of a writer serving as a front. According to Alan K. Rode, Millard Kaufman admitted that he had not contributed anything to the screenplay that Trumbo co-wrote with MacKinlay Kantor and that he had never even watched the completed film until decades later. The King brothers, who produced the film, further exploited Trumbo, who was facing a prison term for contempt of Congress, by paying a flat fee of $3,500.00 for his services on the script.
As Rode noted, both "Gun Crazy" and "Nightmare Alley" are not films that are likely to be threatened by a lack of archival preservation efforts. The two films have remained popular and are in great demand for film festivals and retrospectives. The longterm unavailability of "Nightmare Alley" on videotape or DVD only served to heighten interest in the film.
I had forgotten how much of "Nightmare Alley" was set in Chicago. The audience laughed aloud when Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) referred to the money to be made by swindling the gullible among "lakeshore and Lake Forest mob." Previously, I had written about the number of scenes which were set in the former Sherman House hotel, which was recreated on Hollywood soundstage. The movie also made ample use of second unit or stock footage of important streets in the Chicago Loop and theater district. Much of this footage was utilized by means of rear screen projection while the characters used taxis to traverse the city.
"Nightmare Alley" is one of the bleakest entries in the film noir canon and the author of the original novel, William Lindsay Gresham, inhabited a world as dark and desolate as anything in the life or literature of Cornell Woolrich. Gresham's life was marred by alcoholism and multiple suicide attempts. His first wife, the poet Joy Davidman, eventually fled from her abusive husband and, later, married C. S. Lewis. Suffering from blindness and cancer, Gresham finally succeeded in taking his own life in 1962.
Two of the performers in "Nightmare Alley" saw their own careers suffer due to their offscreen personal battles with the bottle, namely, Ian Keith and Helen Walker. Keith, who was too fond of the night life, was a former leading man on Broadway who specialized in historical costume dramas in Hollywood. While he was in his cups, he was reduced to accepting supporting roles and bit parts in "B" films. While Keith somehow managed to work more or less regularly by never refusing a job, he oftentimes found himself appearing opposite the Bowery Boys or hamming it up in the "Dick Tracy" series or some cheap and utterly forgettable horror films from PRC. "Nightmare Alley" represented one of those occasions when Keith was assigned a supporting role in an "A" picture. The beautiful Helen Walker's career tailspin began after she was involved in a major automobile accident. In addition to suffering her own serious injuries, one of Walker's passengers was killed and allegations were made that the actress had been driving while intoxicated. She worked sporadically after 1950, but by the time of her death in 1968, at the age of forty-seven, Walker had not been employed as an actress in over seven years.
As I watched the films in the theater, I was struck by the number of recognizable character actors in both films, including many uncredited performers, such as George Chandler, Roy Roberts, Ray Teal and so many more. Upon returning home, I eagerly began paging through Rode's biography of Charles McGraw, another great character actor.
Chicago author and historian Richard C. Lindberg was in attendance today. Last year, Lindberg helped to introduce "Call Northside 777" and provided background information on the actual miscarriage of justice in the criminal courts and the newspaper expose' series which inspired the production of the motion picture."