Forever Amber (20th Century-Fox) is every bit as good a movie as it was a novel. But it may not be as sensationally popular as Kathleen Winsor's account of a Slut's Progress.
Many who admired the book may be disappointed to learn that in the picture Amber is allowed only four of her numerous lovers. What's more, she gets an even crueler comeuppance, without (as far as the camera can see) having much fun earning it. During the 140 minutes of the movie the famous hussy is never even kissed hard enough to jar an eyelash loose; and it comes as a mild shock when she suddenly announces her pregnancy.
But Amber enthusiasts may not realize that they are not getting what they paid for. By way of insuring a reputed $6 million investment in the picture, Darryl Zanuck & Co. have performed near-miracles of cinematic legerdemain that distract attention from Amber's uninteresting innocence. Chief distractions:
¶ The picture is mounted with a radiant opulence. Items: $250,000 to recreate and cremate 17th Century London; $100,000 to reconstruct a wing of Whitehall Palace; $90,000 for Amber's wardrobe; $100,000 to film one kiss (which was later cut).
¶ Leon Shamroy's camera gives Amber a highly appetizing protective Technicoloration that dotes with equal affection on furniture and flesh, brazen sconce and brazen bust.
¶ To keep Amber stepping, scene after scene had to be chopped out. These gaps have been plugged with some of the loudest cinemusic ever soundtrackedobviously in hopes that audiences literally will not be able to hear themselves think. The scheme backfires in a curious way: with eyes drugged by the Technicolor and ears numbed by the weight of sound, cinemaddicts are in no shape to appreciate the movie's Big Attractions (The London Fire, The Great Plague, The Duel, Amber in Childbirth).
¶ The first-magnitude cast is headed by a blonde Linda Darnell who makes a handsome but unexciting Amber. Cornel Wilde, as Amber's steady, Lord Bruce Carlton, uses both of his facial expressions frequently. George Sanders, as King Charles II, is at least a periwig above the other players and very nearly gives the show away when he says: "Madam, your mind is like your wardrobemany changes but no surprises."
Nightmare Alley (20th Century-Fox) is a hair-raising carnival sideshow. At the dead end of the alley lives the Geek, an is-he-man-or-is-he-beast carnival exhibit that tears up and eats live chickens. He is able to stomach this job because he is in the last stages of dipsomania, and is paid a bottle a day and a place to sleep it off.
This ultimate pit of carnival-life degradation fascinates shrewd, up & coming young Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power), but it takes Stan nearly two hours' playing time to learn that in spite of all his talents he was born to be a Geek. Stan is one of the most wholehearted and resourceful heels yet to leave a print on the U.S. screen. He climbs a ladder made of ladies. Rung No. 1 is Zeena (Joan Blondell), the midway's mentalist. He plays cozy with her just long enough to swipe a pseudo-telepathic formula through which he can graduate to the big time. No. 2 is a luscious, loyal dimwit named Molly (Coleen Gray), whom he marries. No. 3 is Lilith (Helen Walker), a pseudo-psychiatrist who outsmarts him at his own racket.