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Is he man or beast?
~ Clem’s most famous quote

Clement “Clem” Hoately is a major character in the first half of the 2021 psychological-horror thriller film Nightmare Alley, the second film adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel of the same name.

He is the manager of a circus known for its geek shows, whose freaks allow him to make a lot of money. It's later revealed that in order to get geeks, Clem actually drugs drunkards or traumatized war veterans to force them into serving him as attractions and stay at his business to gather audiences. He ends up becoming one of Stanton "Stan" Carlisle's mentors.

He was portrayed by Willem Dafoe, who also played Raven Shaddock in Streets of Fire, Eric Masters in To Live and Die in L.A., John Geiger in Speed 2: Cruise Control, Max Schreck in Shadow of the Vampire, the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and Spider-Man: No Way Home, Armando Barillo in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Nikolai Diavolo in James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, George Deckert in xXx: State of the Union, Lord Cob in Tales from Earthsea, Rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox, J.G. Jopling in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Jack Lassen in The Simpsons, Ryuk in Netflix's Death Note and Thomas Wake in The Lighthouse.

History

In 1939, while hosting the geek show of his circus, Clement Hoately introduces his audience to his geek, whom he provokes into leaving his cage by throwing him a live chick, watching how his terrified geek hesitantly devours the chicken at the behest of the audience. He is later seen paying his workers until the drifter Stanton "Stan" Carlisle comes to him, after aiding Bruno the Strongman with putting down the circus tent. Clement first mocks Stan, but upon realizing his usefulness, immediately convinces him to accept a job at his circus in exchange of money, food and shelter, an offer Stan accepts.

The next day, the circus travels to another state and they organize themselves there again. The night before the audience comes, the chicken-eating geek escapes, so Clement and Stan follow him into the funhouse. Once there, Stan retrieves the geek, who assaults him, but Clement comes to his rescue, stopping Stan from beating the geek too much. They later drop the geek back to his cage and Clement lets Stan sleep in a bed inside the tent.

After Stan starts working with Madame Zeena, Clem gives Zeena's husband Pete a bottle of sugarcane. He then shows Stan his collection of corpses of dead babies inside jars after asking him help to mone one of his jars before drinking some alcohol, but warns Stan to not steal his alcohol unless he has money to pay for it. Stan assures him that he doesn't even drink, but Clem asks him if he understands his rules, which Stan says, promising to follow his rules. He then delivers some wood alcohol to Pete under Clem's orders. The following night, after Stan fails to convince Molly to run away from the circus, Clem calls him again to check the geek's head injury, which has become infected, so he decides to get rid of the geek by dropping him alongside Stan in front of a Jesus Saves shelter before he likely dies.

It's during dinner at a restaurant that Clement reveals to Stan how he gets his circus geeks: by tricking drunkards found in dark alleys, train tracks or shelters into working for him, even war veterans addicted to opium and alcohol. Due to all these individuals loving alcohol but opium being the substance that easily controls them, Clem spikes their alcohol bottles with opium tincture. As a result, his geeks start working for him and keep doing so even though he promises them to be geeks until he finds out a new geek. Sometime afterwards, while Stan speaks with Pete, they hear how Clem "breaks" a new geek, and Stan later sees Clem dancing when he goes for a sugarcane bottle for Pete while his new geek furiously grunts from his cell.

Following Pete's death the next day, four police cars come to the circus to investigate about his new geek's abduction, leading Stan to inform Clem about this so Clem has time to hide the geek while Stan buys him some time while the police, led by Marshal Jedediah Judd, round up the circus performers. Clem drags his new geek to hide him while Stan receives a police order to close down the circus. Stan manages to talk the Marshal out from closing them down, leading Clem and the rest to celebrate, with Clem admiring Stan's cunning to trick Judd. The following morning, Stan and Molly leave the circus, without apparently warning Clem.

Clem doesn't appear again afterwards, but it can be said that his influence on shaping Stan into a more ambitious and cunning showman prevails for the rest of the film. Two years later, Stan gets into troubles for continuing his cons, which eventually sets a chain of events that culminates with Stan losing everything and, reduced to a hobo, asking for employment at a circus much like the one Clem owned, whose owner interestingly has Enoch at display on his office, which he bought from a defunct circus, suggesting that Clem's circus eventually went out of business. The carnival's owner grants Stan his wish by offering him work as a geek, leading Stan to cry at the irony of becoming a slave just like the ones Clem had.

Trivia

  • In the original novel, Clement Hoately was less manipulative than in the 2021 film adaptation. While he still tricked drunkards into serving him as his geeks, he just lured them with normal alcohol and didn't force them to bite off the chicken's neck at first, leading them to soberly bite their necks out for real once Clem threatened them to stop giving them their alcoholic beverages.
  • It's unknown what relation could Clement have with the circus owner seen at the end of the film due to this character having Enoch at his office and casually mentioning that he bought Enoch from Clem's circus before it went out of business. Some speculate that Clem himself may have sold Enoch to the new circus owner or that Clem apprenticed the man, hence why he adopts the same practices Clem had in respect the hiring of geeks.

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