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Fake Spiritualism in the Movies


TomJH
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This question was asked in MissW's Nightmare Alley thread but there wasn't much response. So I'll try again with a thread of its own.

 

Was Nightmare Alley the first major "A" Hollywood production to deal with the subject of charlatans in the "spook racket" in a serious manner?

 

Truth is, I can only think of a small handful of films that had addressed this potentially fascinating subject matter previously. And they had all been in light hearted thrillers - the two versions ('29 and '37) of The Thirteenth Chair, Miracles for Sale ('39) and Charlie Chan at Treasure Island ('39).

 

Would anybody know of the titles of any other films to deal with the subject of the exploitation of those believing in the hereafter? And, for that matter, titles of films either before or after the mesmerizing Nightmare Alley.

 

Unless someone can produce an earlier title, I suspect that Nightmare Alley deserves credit as the first major serious film production to deal with the subject, just as The Uninvited (1944) is hailed as Hollywood's first serious ghost film.

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It's been a long time since I saw that film, ham. I thought she was supposed to be the real thing, not a fake. But I stand to be corrected.

 

Still, you're talking spiritualism, whether fake or not, in the movies, and there haven't been that many films to address the issue that I know of, certainly from the studio era.

 

Truth is, I draw a mental blank to think of ANY films from the Golden Era outside of Nightmare Alley (dealing with the subject seriously, that is).

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"The Amityville Horror" (1979) has to be greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. Talk about fake spirits.

 

Any tarot readers are fakes by any definition. Movies like "Touch of Evil" (1958) and "Night Tide" (1961) portrays them.

 

This might be a little off but the old "Scooby Doo" cartoons always uncover spiritual fakes.

 

Edited by: hamradio on Oct 17, 2013 12:30 PM

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Hi Tom,

 

Here you go:

 

suckermoney_zps58bac81d.jpeg

 

*Sucker Money (1933)*

 

http://archive.org/details/SuckerMoney

 

Full movie 59 minutes

 

*"A phony spiritualist (Mischa Auer) hypnotizes the daughter (Phyllis Barrington) of a wealthy banker (Ralph Lewis) in a scheme to swindle the banker out of his money.*

 

*A reporter (Earl McCarthy) investigating the swami discovers the plot, determines to expose it."*

 

 

Of course, it's not a major production; it was a "B" movie filler produced by a poverty row studio called "Progressive Pictures".

 

Psychics, fake or real, were a borderline subject not eagerly dealt with by the majors at the time. Most people were skeptical, but a large minority were not. Many of the believers were passionate and vocal in their support. Large studios knew they risked alienating a lot of ticket buyers whatever side they took. Religious groups and organisations also disliked the subject, preferring the movies not deal with it at all.

 

Coming through for you like always!

 

"Swami Thelma"

 

 

speakthelma.gif

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How about Night of the Hunter? In fact one could say that every religious movie is about fake spirtualism but I know that isn't where you were going here.

 

But to me Night of the Hunter fits the bill.

 

Saw Nightmare Alley for the first time last night. My wife sheed a tear when she saw what had become of Tyrone. When RO mentioned that the movie didn't do well at the box office since fans didn't wish to see him in this way, she understood completely.

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> How about Night of the Hunter? In fact one could say that every religious movie is about fake spirtualism but I know that isn't where you were going here. But to me Night of the Hunter fits the bill. Saw Nightmare Alley for the first time last night. My wife sheed a tear when she saw what had become of Tyrone. When RO mentioned that the movie didn't do well at the box office since fans didn't wish to see him in this way, she understood completely

 

"Chill-dren?...Chilll-dren!* My psycho-mitchum impersonation. :)

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>Totally agree with you about Poltergeist, hamradio. They hadda good chance at a really good supernatural thriller...right up until Spielberg and or Hooper introduced all that new age bright light slash moving on to the next plain BS. Ruined what otherwise coulda been a great movie.

 

You mean kind of like how the remake of "The Haunting" with its overdone special effects totally ruined the entire premise of the original's "IS this house really haunted, OR was all the strange goings-on all just a figment of the characters' and OUR imagination?".

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>Psychics, fake or real, were a borderline subject not eagerly dealt with by the majors at the time. Most people were skeptical, but a large minority were not. Many of the believers were passionate and vocal in their support. Large studios knew they risked alienating a lot of ticket buyers whatever side they took. Religious groups and organisations also disliked the subject, preferring the movies not deal with it at all.

 

Well, Thelma, perhaps that's why the studios were so reluctant to explore such seemingly fertile fields for drama and it was primarily the little 'B"s or a poverty row effort such as Sucker Money (which I had never heard of) that were willing to take a small budget chance on offending religious organizations.

 

Perhaps that, in turn, should add to our appreciation of the courage of Fox for daring to have their biggest matinee idol portray such a charlatan (though, at the same time, Zanuck gave Nightmare Alley as little publicity as possible).

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It's Doctor Zodiac, the fake (how can you tell from that appearance?) spiritualist in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island.

 

ccti12.jpg

 

This is the kind of "B" effort that would occasionally tackle the subject, strictly on a melodramatic, light hearted level.

 

It would appear that 1947's Nightmare Alley was the first major Hollywood production to take an adult approach to the subject of fake spiritualism.

 

nightmare[ipower[/i]and+sucker.jpg]

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There's also 1933's THE MIND READER with Warren William doing an act on the carny circuit.

 

In 1935's THE CLAIRVOYANT, Claude Rains finds that his "act" has become a reality, something that also happens to Edward G. Robinson in THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES.

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Eugenia, perhaps there is a misunderstanding when I use the term "fake spiritualist." I'm referring to those fakes who claim to communicate with the spirit world, as does Power in Nightmare Alley.

 

Sorry if there was a communication failure.

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clore, The Mind Reader and The Clairvoyant are excellent illustrations of phonies in the psychic world, and they were both made more than a decade before Nightmare Alley. Very good. I had forgotten about those efforts, though their budgets were a bit limited.

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Actually sfpcc2, I think you might have just mentioned one of the best examples of what Tom is asking for here. I watched the film for the first time when TCM showed it just a few weeks back and was very impressed with it, and especially with Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough's performances.

 

(...and so no, I don't think you're wrong here at all)

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Thanks for explaining this since I also had a misunderstanding. I assume that anyone that was in the business of spiritualism that was a fake (someone that wasn?t sincere), was fair game.

 

But I also think you need to redefine what you wrote; it isn't if one claims to but if they claim to and know that they are NOT. i.e. they are NOT sincere, they know they are being phony.

 

I only point this out because there are multiple movies were people really believe they are communiating with the spirtual world but they are not. These people are not fakes but just misguided.

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Tom, Fritz Lang's *Ministry of Fear* was made in 1944 (3 years before *Nightmare Alley* .)

Have you seen it? I recently obtained the DVD and watched it last week. It's a great little pic, a must for both Fritz Lang and Ray MIlland fans.

 

Anyway, although it is not primarily about spiritualism, fake or genuine, there are a couple of fake psychic scenes in it.

The first takes place at a carnival - well, we're in Britain, so it's called a "fete". This carnival is unlike Stan's in NA, much more cheerful. Our hero -Ray Milland, of course - visits a fortune teller's tent, and is told his fortune, which involves winning a very significant cake !

 

Later, Stephen (Milland) finds himself at a seance. He's only there to try and uncover the ring of Nazi collaborators he suspects are somehow involved with the crystal ball gazer, the cake !, and a possibly shady charitable organization called "Mothers of the Free Nations".

The svelte and elegant "medium" makes all the right spiritualist moves: douses the lights, urges everyone to hold hands, asks the spirits to rap, etc.

This sets up an ideal situation for something to happen - just not a visitation from "the other side" !

 

Oh, by the way, bonus: the very pretty Marjorie Reynolds co-stars.

Double bonus: Our man Dan Duryea makes an appearance (or two.) His "tailor" scene, wherein he dials the phone with a gigantic pair of scissors, is priceless.

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