I’m not sure whether my favorite film noir is “Nightmare Alley” or “Nightmare Alley.”

Two movies of the same name are based on the novel by William Lindsay Gresham. The first, the 1947 version starring Tyrone Power, is a black-and-white movie directed by Edmund Goulding. The latest, directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Bradley Cooper, maintains its dark atmosphere in color.

Both center on opportunist Stanton Carlisle (Power/Cooper,) a handsome, selfish carnival worker who seizes every chance he gets, often to the detriment of others. The 1947 version opens with Stanton working at the carnival. Del Toro’s version lets the audience see how Stanton arrives there.

He ingratiates himself to Zeena, a mentalist (Joan Blondell/Toni Collette) who has eyes for him. She and her alcoholic husband (Ian Keith/David Strathairn) once had a high-class mentalist, and Stanton wants to know the secret behind it.

Eventually, while Stanton learns more about deceiving audiences while he embraces a good life, he meets someone as dangerous as he is: Psychiatrist Lillith (Helen Walker/Cate Blanchett) understands Stanton, and begins to help him in a treacherous quest.

I remember when I first saw the 1947 “Nightmare,” and I was amazed at how grim it was despite the heavy censorship of the time. Despite an ending tacked on to lessen the intensity of its harsh finale, it still packs a wallop. (On a personal note, it mentions my old stomping ground of Galesburg, Ill.)

With its longer running time, gorgeous environments and more fleshed-out characters, the 2021 version is one of the finest movies of 2021.

I highly recommend a “Nightmare” night, starting with the older version on the small screen, then off to the theater to see the newer one.

Both are the stuff dreams are made of for film noir fans.

The 1947 version: 4 stars

  • Running time: One hour and 51 minutes.
  • Rated: Unrated, with adult themes.
  • On Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming free on YouTube.com.
  • Watch the trailer here.

The 2021 version: 4 stars

  • Rated: R for foul language, sexual situations and violence.
  • Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes.
  • Opens Dec. 17 in theaters.
  • Watch the trailer here.