(Warning: plot of the 1946, 1947, and 2021 discussed in explicit detail)
Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley, adapted from William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel, is arguably his most unabashedly grim head trip--leisurely paced, impeccably acted, sumptuously designed and shot, it forsakes the science fiction and horror tropes del Toro is fond of wielding (sometimes like a sledgehammer) to translate Gresham's nihilistic vision to the big screen.
Difficult to resist comparing the film to Edmund Goulding's 1947 version. The earlier attempt is the leaner effort, with sharpedged black and white cinematography and a heroically unglamorous performance by Hollywood romantic action star Tyrone Power. Goulding tells the story with admirable speed and clarity: we know from the first hour that Power's Stan Carlisle is a neophyte eager to learn carny ways, that Joan Blondell's soothsaying Mademoiselle Zeena has a complicated relationship with alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith), that Stan also has eyes for spangled ingenue Molly (Coleen Gray). On the down side you wonder at Molly's last-minute refusal to participate in an elaborate scam, and at the film's softened final scene (reportedly imposed by studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck).