What makes the 1946 adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham bleak tale of life far, far under the big top so unique was the curious combination of director Edmund Goulding (acclaimed for such “woman’s pictures” as Grand Hotel and Dark Victory), the backing of a Hollywood major (20th Century Fox), and Tyrone Power, the handsome leading man contracted to star as the mentalist, fallen on hard times, reduced to entertaining the crowd by biting the heads off live poultry. In these shockproof, post-Jigsaw times, a chicken-plucker is downright gentlemanly by comparison. Bradley Cooper cooks up a chilly con’s carny while Cate Blanchett’s overworked vamp on Barbara Stanwyck provides the actress with a rare fizzle. It looks great — Guillermo del Toro casts a mahogany-blush over production designer Tamara Deverell’s spacious art deco sets. The story is ripe for remaking, but at a bloated 150 minutes, I’m not certain this is the film to do it. With Rooney Mara as the sole softening agent and Richard Jenkins, never nastier. (2021) — Scott Marks
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