“Nightmare Alley,” the Official Teaser Trailer of the William Gresham Adaptation by Guillermo del Toro

We have heard the rumours for months, fuelled by short news pieces that sounded promising. And now we have it, the teaser trailer of Nightmare Alley, a Guillermo del Toro adaptation with a huge cast, including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, and Mary Steenburgen.

While it is difficult to forgive him for The Hobbit adaptation, Guillermo del Toro is a genius of dark fantasy with Academy Award-winning films like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Shape of Water (2017). From the teaser, it looks like del Toro wants to languish in the smokey, eye-gazing, overwrought one-line dynamic of the 1947 film noir version of Nightmare Alley, combined with a thriller energy that back-stages atmospheric features of carnival life, both luring and lurid.

Indeed, while the trailer wants us to think that true monstrosity is always off stage–and there are some intriguing nods to the ’47 film even in this short trailer–I have no doubt that del Toro is trying to help us reimagine both terror and monstrosity.

Why the interest in this particular film?

While I am a fan of thrillers that flirt with the fantastic, it is mostly because both the 1947 and 2021 films are adaptations of the 1946 novel of the same name, written by William Lindsay Gresham. That is, Bill Gresham, the husband of Joy Davidman–the enigmatic poet and prose writer who found her way into an unlikely and tender late-in-life marriage with C.S. Lewis. So while Joy Davidman’s life and work–including her compelling poetry and mercurial personality–loom much larger for me than a one-hit-wonder novelist from the ’40s, the connection keeps me intrigued. Davidman’s biographer, Abigail Santamaria, describes Nightmare Alley‘s impact on the Gresham household where both Joy and Bill were struggling writers, pressed to the edge as parents and artists:

Nightmare Alley, published on September 9 [1946] had begun generating press as early as July 7, with the Washington Post promising a “sinister and compelling piece of fiction” that would “shock some readers but send the public clamoring to the bookstores.” And it did. The novel, a work of brilliance, would become a noir classic with a cult following for decades to come.

But first, a bigger payoff presented itself: Twentieth Century-Fox bought the film rights for $50,000. And the studio invited Bill to Hollywood for the first two months of 1947 to collaborate with writer Jules Furthman on adapting the novel for the screen. In January, Bill took a train west. The picture, starring Tyrone Power and dJoan Blondell, would be produced at lightning speed for a New York City premiere at the Mayfair Theater on October 7, 1947. The windfall was more money than Bill or Joy had ever seen, and they knew exactly how they wanted to spend it. “We looked around for the biggest house we could find,” Bill said. After two years of living and writing in a cramped three-room apartment with one, and then two babies, the Greshams wanted a home with land where Davy and Douglas could grow “husky and brown and tough and mischievous. That is all one can ask.” And they “had to have a woodlot,” Joy insisted. “We wanted the feeling of walking in our own woods.” Ample workspace was also a priority, private studies in which to think and write. Both of them had new projects in the works…. The future once again promised great things. Now they could settle down. Now everything would be fine (Abigail Santamaria, Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis (p. 178-9).

I have no doubt that Gresham’s Nightmare Alley will find its way to my bedside table this fall as I await the December 3rd release. There will be more to say. Meanwhile, here is the teaser trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley.

Someone has created a little trailer for the 1947 film:

And you can find the entire film smouldering 1947 classic here:

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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14 Responses to “Nightmare Alley,” the Official Teaser Trailer of the William Gresham Adaptation by Guillermo del Toro

  1. robstroud says:

    Very interesting. I just loaded up the link you provided for the original film and I’m looking forward to watching it as I do some mundane computer chores.

    Oh no… they’re feeding the geek. Yikes. (False alarm… they were just talking about feeding the geek.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s a nice crossover of the word “geek”!


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Which suddenly makes me think of Eudora Welty’s “Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden”, included in A Curtain of Green (1941) – only 5 years before Nightmare Alley (though I cannot quickly find anything about date of composition – and magazine publication?). Is this a ‘ period thing’, in literature or pop culture?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks for this – not least, the Abigail Santamaria biography quotation, with its “woods” quotation! (Still have not caught up with that biography – how these last years fly!) Creepy-looking trailer (in more than one sense) – and creepy-looking 1947-version trailer, for that matter, and unfamiliar looking, though I’ve watched a lot of old (and ‘noir’) movies, and enjoyed a fair number of Tyrone Power movies. It would be intellectually interesting to know how variously true to the novel both are (or not), but, however intriguing the summary with the 1947 trailer, in contrast with your expectation soon to read the original, I am not sure I have the stomach for any of the three.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m liking the creepy-factor on these films, though the first 1947 film wasn’t creepy to me, just interesting, smouldering. I haven’t yet read the book, so I don’t know for sure about that one!


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Does (he asked lazily, but really wanting to know, too) Abigail Santamaria have more information on the interactions and interrelations of Bill and Joy’s Christian development and the success of Nightmare Alley, and their reflections on book and film from their new perspectives?


        • Yes, absolutely. All of the story is more about Joy Davidman than her husband William, I learned a powerful amount about them in their home and in their career development. It has been a while since I’ve read the book, and it makes me think that I would like to reread it very soon.


  3. Pingback: “Nightmare Alley,” the Official Teaser Trailer of the William Gresham Adaptation by Guillermo del Toro – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  4. Gail says:

    This looks so interesting! But I have to say, from what I understand, Guillermo del Toro is not to blame for the Hobbit adaptation—they completely scrapped all of the conceptual stuff he’d already had prepared and started from scratch when PJ took over. Not saying his version would have been better, maybe it wouldn’t, but I guess we’ll never know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’ve heard something different, that PJ was trapped by the structure that del Toro set up, though made his own epic style films. I submit on this one, having really only hearsay–and I didn’t hate the films. I just think they are less organic as remakes than the LOTR films.

      Liked by 1 person

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