Doctor Seduces Patient in NIGHTMARE ALLEY Movie Review – Movie Recap

The film opens with Stanton “Stan” Carlisle 
dragging a body into the floorboards of his home,  
and then dropping a match to 
set the entire place on fire.  
He then takes a bus until it drops him off at 
a carnival. He watches as the troupe leader,  
Clem Hoatley, presents a “geek” to the audience. 
The man is advertised as “is it a man or a beast?”  
before an amused crowd. Clem drops a live 
chicken down as the Geek comes out and  
bites the head of the chicken, to the 
horror and amusement of the crowd.
Stan is spotted by other carnies, strongest man 
Bruno and the world’s smallest man Major Mosquito,  
who thinks he is up to no good, but Stan ends 
up getting a job as a carny working with them.  
After proving himself useful, Clem allows Stan 
to join them as they move to another carnival.
On their next job, Stan starts to grow close to 
one of the carnies, Molly Cahill, whose act is to  
allow electrical charges to run through her body. 
Bruno warns Stan not to hurt her since he promised  
her father that he would look after her, and he 
threatens Stan with violence if he does anything  
to her. At one point,

the “Beast” Geek flees from 
his cage, and Stan and Clem have to look for him.  
The Geek hits Stan over the head with 
a rock, and Stan retaliates by throwing  
him down and hitting him over the head, 
but Clem stops him from killing the man.
Stan stays with fellow carny Zeena, whose act 
is being a clairvoyant to the patrons, along  
with her husband, Pete. Stan has a brief affair 
with Zeena. He later helps them with their act,  
which sees Zeena pretending to be a medium between 
herself and the customers. Pete misses a cue  
because he is drunk, so Zeena has to improvise, 
but she gets the audience to cheer for her.  
Meanwhile, Stan tries to come up with a gimmick 
for Molly where she is strapped to an electric  
chair and would allow him to join her act.
Stan spends time with Clem, who shows him the  
stash of liquor that he has, but warns him against 
taking the wood alcohol, which is poisonous.  
After taking the Geek to get medical attention, 
Clem tells Stan about how a man becomes a Geek  
after being broken and left with nothing to 
his name. He also shows Stan a collection  
of oddities he possesses, such as a fetus with a 
third eye that killed its mother in childbirth.
Stan learns some tricks from Zeena and Pete, 
after Pete demonstrates his techniques on Stan  
by mentioning him wanting the love of his father. 
Although Pete says this is just a run-of-the-mill  
trick, it hit Stan since he had a tumultuous 
relationship with his father. Zeena and Pete warn  
Stan against putting on a “spook show” involving 
trying to channel the dead in their acts.
At night, Stan brings Pete some liquor per 
his requests. While Pete appears passed out,  
Stan attempts to swipe his little black book of 
tricks, but Pete catches him. In the morning,  
Bruno and Major go to Zeena and tell her something 
happened to Pete. Everybody runs to the middle of  
the field and finds Pete dead, having been 
poisoned (although it’s not clear if Stan  
gave him the wood alcohol on purpose or 
by mistake). Zeena wails over his body.
As Stan grows closer to Molly, he eventually 
convinces her to leave the carnival behind  
and run away with him. When they start kissing, 
Bruno catches them, and he starts punching Stan,  
but Molly holds him off and says she loves him 
and has agreed to go with him. On their last  
day, Stan says his farewell to Zeena. He offers 
her Pete’s book, but she declines to take it.
Two years later, Stan and Molly have put on an 
act in New York with him as “The Great Stanton.”  
He wears a blindfold and guesses what Molly is 
holding based on certain signals. During one show,  
they are approached by psychologist Dr. Lilith 
Ritter. She opts to do the act with Stan herself,  
asking him to guess what is in her clutch. Stan 
correctly guesses that she is holding a pistol  
in there. The crowd applauds. Afterward, Stan 
speaks to Judge Charles Kimball, who employed  
Lilith to see if Stan was the real deal, and Stan 
claims to be channeling Kimball’s deceased son  
Julian. He offers to pay Stan handsomely for a 
private reading, which Molly says they don’t do,  
but Stan cannot turn down the opportunity.
Stan goes to Kimball’s house to meet with him  
and his wife. He learns that Julian died in No 
Man’s Land, and claims to feel his presence, which  
is enough to convince them of Stan’s “abilities.”
Stan later meets with Lilith in her office.  
She knows he is a con man, but she is intrigued 
by his methods and plans to help him exploit New  
York’s elite, since she has several sessions with 
them recorded. She also begins sessions with Stan,  
learning of his guilt in Pete’s death since he 
implicitly viewed him as something of a surrogate  
father figure. It is also shown that Stan was 
with his father in his final moments, as he  
made his father freeze to death and later dumped 
his body in the house before setting it on fire.
Molly calls Bruno, and he arrives to visit her 
with Major and Zeena. Stan talks with Zeena, who  
also advises him against doing the spook show.
Per Lilith’s suggestions,  
Stan meets with Kimball and is introduced 
to Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins),  
a wealthy man who wants to speak to his late wife 
Dory, who died after suffering a miscarriage.  
Stan meets Grindle and his loyal assistant 
Anderson (Holt McCallany), and he is hooked  
up to a lie detector. When asked about being a 
medium, Stan is almost exposed as a liar until  
he manages to make claims related to Dory, which 
convinces Grindle that he is who he says he is.
Stan begins an affair with Lilith and starts 
drinking while continuing to scam Grindle.  
Molly learns of the affair and 
packs her bags to leave Stan,  
but he catches up to her at the train 
station and convinces her to stay.
At the Kimball house, Mrs. Kimball has 
lost her mind and believes that she will  
be reunited with Julian based on what Stan 
told her. She shoots her husband in the  
head before turning the gun on herself.
Grindle wishes to see Dory again, so Stan  
plans with Molly to fake a seance since Molly 
slightly resembles Dory, based on a sketch he saw.  
Stan meets Grindle in the cemetery, where he 
admits to Stan that he abused women in his  
lifetime, and he feels responsible for what 
happened to Dory. Molly puts on her outfit  
and throws fake blood on herself. However, when 
Grindle gets too close and starts grabbing her,  
Molly backs out. Grindle becomes angered 
and strikes Molly before threatening Stan.  
Stan responds by punching Grindle to death, 
hitting him hard enough to break his nose  
clean off. Anderson comes out in response, 
but Stan and Molly begin driving away,  
and Stan runs Anderson over twice, killing him. 
When they get away, Molly leaves Stan for good.
Stan returns to Lilith’s office, where she 
reveals that she was scamming him and taking  
all the money he was collecting from Grindle. She 
shoots Stan in the ear, and when he attacks her,  
she gets the police to come. Stan flees 
before he is caught and runs to a train.
A few years pass. Stan was now homeless, broke, 
and a full-blown alcoholic. He ends up at another  
carnival, where he speaks to the boss. He tries 
to offer himself to do the clairvoyant act,  
but the boss turns him away. He does offer 
Stan a drink and a job at being the new Geek.  
Stan says he was born for it, and he 
begins to laugh through his sobs.

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