The film under discussion today is Alias Nick Beal, which was released by Paramount in 1949. It was directed by John Farrow, who may be better known nowadays as Mia’s dad. It’s a pat little morality play that offers no real surprises, but it’s still worth a watch, especially for those who just can’t get enough of films about people selling their souls to the devil.
Thomas Mitchell (whom you may recognize from a plethora of classic films, most notably It’s a Wonderful Life) stars as Joseph Foster, a district attorney who glibly makes the remark that he’d sell his soul to be able to bring down a particularly worrisome criminal. Immediately (as in he hasn’t even finished his sentence yet), a boy brings him a note asking him to meet with someone who can help him with just this task. And so Foster begins his literally unholy alliance with Mr. Nick Beal, whose moniker is decidedly more transparent than his motives.
The titular Mr. Beal is played by Ray Milland, who is certainly no stranger to Psychotronic films. In the 1940s, he appeared in The Uninvited, one of the best ghost stories ever put to celluloid. In the 1950s, he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. In the 1960s, he started an association with American International Pictures which lasted well into the 1970s and brought him roles in films such as The Premature Burial and The Thing with Two Heads. In Alias Nick Beal, he plays the title role with just the right amount of menace. He never crosses over into camp, which could have been very easy to do with a not-exactly-fresh plot that goes back hundreds of years to Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, which was based on even earlier German folklore.
It would sure be nice if Paramount would release this film on DVD—I understand that the film has undergone a restoration that has made its rounds to repertory theaters in the last few years. As it stands now, if you want to own a copy, you’ll have to do like me and buy a bootleg online.
I hear you asking now, “Hey, Rob, what’s YouTube got on Alias Nick Beal?” I’m glad you asked–thanks to YouTube user PeterAndres18, you can see the whole film…albeit broken into 10-minute chunks. Here’s the first chunk:
Don’t have time to watch the whole thing? Then check out this clip: