Happy Endings?




You may have seen my book review of Nightmare Alley. Since that review, I’ve seen the recent movie version starring Bradley Cooper. I couldn’t let it stop there. So, I watched theoriginal 1947 version with Tyrone Power. As you might expect, the early version, released just two years after the book hit the market, is truer to the language of the 1940s. People talked differently then, used expressions long forgotten. However, there was a striking difference. The original movie had a happy ending. Well, a reasonably happy ending.


Spoiler Alert: I tell how the story ends.


The book and both movies spend time in the carney where a “geek” is featured. No, it’s not a computer geek, but a poor alcohol-saturated fellow who bites the heads off chickens for the amusement of the crowd and for his next bottle of booze. We follow a man who starts in the carney as an assistant to a mentalist and follows that career as a mentalist himself, making it to the big time. But they find our hero is a fake, and he descends into the life of an alcoholic bum.


That is where the original movie differs. Whereas the book and the recent Bradley Cooper version end with an ironic, tragic situation, the original movie tacks on a scene where the love interest rushes in to save our hero. Fade to black.


Why? Probably the motion picture code of the period required it. Maybe the studio execs insisted on it. Were audiences who had weathered the great depression and a world war seeking it?


I’ve heard that all the dramas we have today were first created by the Greeks. They certainly knew tragedy. Oedipus killing his father, unwittingly marrying his mother, and putting his own eyes out when he realizes what he had done hardly had them rolling in the marble aisles with laughter in Athens.


More television and movie productions end tragically. It’s not surprising that Macbeth is getting produced all over the place. But why? Do we need happy endings?

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Jackson Coppley