Alias Nick Beal (1949): The Devil wears Armani

“I don’t do much business with preachers”

Alias Nick Beal (1949)

Ray Milland is Lucifer, alias Nick Beal ‘Agent’, who, with the help of b-girl Audrey Totter goes shopping for the soul of honest DA and aspiring governer Thomas Mitchell.  Add to the mix smart direction from John Farrow, a killer script from Jonathon Latimer, superb noir lensing by Lionel Lindon, and a haunting score from Franz Waxman. Garnish with a bespectacled George Macready cast against type as a reverend running a boy’s club, and you have a thoroughly entertaining melodrama. Milland dominates as Beelzebub in a sharp suit and rakish fedora. He slaps, ices, insinuates, and connives a swathe through the earnest life of Joseph Foster DA, after with his help Foster naively cuts a legal corner in nailing a hood.  The mis-en-scene is canny, and particularly inspired is the use of a seedy wharf-side bar as Nick’s ‘office.’ The only weakness is the bible-saves ending, though Nick is left free to disappear into a harbor fog to corrupt other souls.

The story offers an intriguing twist to the noir punishment and redemption motifs.  Nick has a written contract for the DA’s soul – vetted  as enforceable by his global legal team – which will only be triggered if when-push-comes-to-shove Foster does the right thing by a public mea-culpa and renouncing of his ill-gotten gains.  A wily trap indeed.   The jaws snap shut at the instant of redemption. But a noir ending would have had the hapless DA disappearing into the fog en-route to the Island of Almas Perdidas.

2 thoughts on “Alias Nick Beal (1949): The Devil wears Armani”

  1. Hi! Tony,
    What a very interesting synopsis of the 1949 film Alias Nick Beal Starring Ray Milland and Audrey Totter.
    (Who is one of the two surviving members, the other is actress Coleen Gray,(“Kiss of Death,” “Nightmare Alley,” “Kansas City Confidential,” “The Sleeping City,” and ”The Killing,”)of the six noir dames that were featured in author Eddie Muller’s book Dark City Dames.)

    Tony said, “The jaws snap shut at the instant of redemption. But a noir ending would have had the hapless DA disappearing into the fog en-route to the Island of Almas Perdidas.”
    So True…So True!

    The screenshot is…perfect!
    By the way, I use to own a copy of this film, but I gave all my copies to friends. Therefore, I must seek out another copy.
    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee 😉


  2. Aye Dee Dee, this is an excellent capsule of a sadly underappreciated noir. It’s probably John Farrow’s best film, and it features one of Ray Milland’s finest performances. But the deceit of never showing Milland’s profile works superby, and the shadows are beautifully negotiated by Lionel Linden. The noir essense of course segues into fantasy – a take on the Faust legend. The film’s subtle ‘suggestiveness’ has it working on another level, and Franz Waxman, a golden age great wrote the fine, atmospheric score. Some critics have taken issue with the religious redemption mtif at the end, but for me it was wholly appropriate as the worm had turned by then.


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