Sog.: Mindret Lord. Scen.: Jonathan Latimer. F.: Lionel Lindon. M.: Eda Warren. Scgf.: Franz Bachelin, Hans Dreier. Mus.: Franz Waxman. Int.: Ray Milland (Nick Beal), Audrey Totter (Donna Allen), Thomas Mitchell (Joseph Foster), George Macready (reverendo Thomas Garfield), Fred Clark (Frankie Faulkner), Geraldine Wall (Martha Foster), Henry O’Neill (giudice Hobson), Darryl Hickman (Larry Price), Nestor Paiva (Karl). Prod.: Endre Bohem per Paramount Pictures. 35mm. Bn.
In 1948 director John Farrow began a close, decade-long collaboration with writer Jonathan Latimer that resulted in ten films, including one marvel (The Big Clock), quite a few greats (including Night Has a Thousand Eyes), and some obscurities. The intensely engaging Alias Nick Beal, their fourth collaboration, is a dark, claustrophobic variation on the story of Faust (Mindret Lord’s original story was titled Dr Joe Faust) in keeping with the increasingly relevant ‘political corruption’ cycle of the late 1940s (the Oscar for Best Film in 1949 went to All the King’s Men). Thomas Mitchell plays Joseph Foster, an ambitious district attorney who meets a shady character who offers to help him climb up the political ladder. But there’s a price to be paid, especially when one is dealing with the Devil, alias Nick Beal. As a devoted Catholic who was perhaps affected by a strong sense of guilt, Farrow saw evil as more than a metaphor. It had a body and a presence, the eloquence of a philosophy teacher, as embodied by Ray Milland, who never walks into a scene but like Mrs Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca simply ‘appears’. This metaphysical noir concentrates on a theme that allows Farrow’s talent to register most strongly: the entrapment of man. The film also has some haunting and even poetic touches as seen in Two Years Before the Mast, which first converted me to Farrow. Alias Nick Beal has long been unavailable, except in ghastly bootleg copies, but we are promised a pristine 35mm print, which together with Il Cinema Ritrovato’s world premiere of an Australian documentary on Farrow (Hollywood’s Man in the Shadows), should allow us to revisit a career marked with underappreciated greatness and fascinating unevenness – a career itself invariably drifting into the shadows, not quite sure whether it has struck a deal with God or with Nick Beal.