Tyrone Power did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Stanton "Stan" Carlisle in Nightmare Alley.
Tyrone Power has not been a favorite actor of mine, in that I find him to be a very bland leading man almost every film I've seen him in, with the exception of his supporting role in Witness For the Prosecution. The question though was that fluke? Well with Nightmare Alley Tyrone Power might share a great deal with fellow onscreen Jesse James, Brad Pitt. In that perhaps he's a terrible romantic lead hiding quite the capable character actor. Well Power is lead here, but this is not his typical leading turn as the goodhearted pirate, the goodhearted war veteran, the goodhearted aristocrat or the goodhearted Zorro. Here we meet Stan who initially seems potentially like a more traditional Power role, but to be honest with a bit more zip than usual as we see him perform as the carnival barker by introducing a mind reading act. Any such idea though is soon broken as we see Stan attempting to find the secret code used by the "mind reader" and her drunkard partner, and here's where we see another side to Power, the side of Power I like to see quite honestly.
Power is rather interesting in that in those roles where he's a playing charming guy he's not that charming, but here he is yet in a very particular way. Stan goes around seducing two women of the circus and old Stan does it with ease. Power is convincing in this but what so special about is the way he plays the trick on the women really. There is something so nefarious about the way Power does it as he offers such words of warmth and love while his eyes seem as though they are looking for something entirely for his own selfish ends. This is only the warm up act for Stan though as it seems his powers (no pun intended) of persuasion are only are on the grow. This is indicated early on in a scene where he cold reads a local Sheriff to prevent him from shutting down the circus. Power is quite honestly incredible in the scene in a way that his distinct to Power, and that is what makes it so effective. As he goes about telling the Sheriff his inner most thoughts the oddly specific precision of Power's deliver gives it this otherworldly quality as though Stan really doing it all himself, though of course he's not.
Stan's ambition only grows though as he goes off to become a performer along with his sort of forced upon him wife, to act as a higher class "mind reader". Again Power is so good in these scenes by actually playing into what usually is a weakness in his performances which is that certain detachment. Power here though makes such a strong use of it as though Stan in these moments is above all mere mortals. Now this is not an accidental stroke of luck because, as with Witness For the Prosecution, Power off sets these moments with his scenes off stage so to speak. Power does not have anything ethereal about it as he rather bluntly portrays Stan for what he truly is, just a selfish man who wants more, only more. Power here brings the emotion, though of course this emotion is not the most pleasant to be seen. Power reveals a lust in Stan's eyes as he describes his intentions to only become an even greater sort of "showman" to the public, as he reveals a wholly amoral desire in Stan. Power makes no apologizes in this as he speaks of his potential dupes with a considerable disdain.
Something that I really like about this performance is that Power really doesn't grant any silver lining to Stan, other than he's not more evil than he already is. He stays with him even as Stan begins to act as though he can speak to the dead, even using it to try to dupe a skeptic. In the scene where Stan summons the man's dead sister, played by Stan's wife, Power is great as he only acts as the showman pressing for a greater reaction in the man while revealing no hesitations even as the man begins to breakdown mentally. Power even continues this after Stan has been found out for the fraud he is, and does not take use the final scenes of the film to show the "real nice guy beneath the surface". Instead Power shows just a bitter man who can still occasionally pull off a nice trick or two but only to impress his fellow hobos. There's one especially remarkable moment where Stan cold reads a fellow drunkard and Power still shows that Stan has it making it all the crueler as he stops the act while the man is still transfixed. Power brings a real viciousness to his hatred to his own plight, and reflects just how wretched of a state the man is in. This leads Stan to go back to the circus where he accepts the only job that is offered to him, the lowest one in the circus, the geek. Power is exceptional in the scene as he agrees with again his fake smile of a true showman, but this time he's laughing only at himself. The film ends with an unneeded last minute switch, and given the Hays code I'm surprised Stan got such a "happyish" ending even. Nevertheless before the last minute switch we get Stan at his worst as he breaks down in an alcoholic rage and well Power nails the scene. He goes all the way in being a complete wreck just lashing out, and Power is terrific mess. Of course Power also this entire role. This isn't an actor playing into his weaknesses, rather it's an actor apparently playing the type of role he always should have played.