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Clement Hoately. Being a despicable carny reminds me of the Coachman (ironic, as Guillermo is making a Pinocchio film for this year). Maybe he isn't even an antagonist who opposes the protagonist, but he's certainly the antagonist of other story...

Hello guys! Today, here's my seventy-fifth PE proposal, and it's about Clement Hoately, a major character in the first half of the 2021 film adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's novel Nightmare Alley. I recently saw this movie out of interest for Guillermo del Toro's filmography, but it certainly intrigued me that the worst character of the film isn't even an antagonist, at least one who opposes the protagonist.


Nightmare Alley is a 2021 neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by Guillermo del Toro, written by del Toro and Kim Morgan and starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen and David Strathairn. The film tells the story of Stanton Carlisle, a shady and ambitious conman who joins a circus, where he learns some clairvoyant tricks, like simulating how to speak with the dead. He decides to make a career out of it, but his ambition may end up leading to his downfall. Or maybe not...


Clement Hoately is the owner of a circus known for its geek shows. In 1939, we first see Clement speaking to his audience and showing them his main attraction: a geek. He treats the geek like if he were some monster, asking the audience if they deem the "creature" a beast or a human. To make the geek exit his room, he throws the geek a live chicken, whose head the geek reluctantly bites out so he can eat. He then pays some coins to the men his strongman Bruno asked to help in disarming the tent. Among them, Clem meets Stanton Carlisle, a drifter who has a radio. When Carlisle threatens to leave due to Clem's miserable pay, Clem offers to hire him in exchange of money, food and shelter, which Stan accepts.

The following day, after traveling thirty five kilometers to a new fair, the geek tries to escape, so Clem requests Stan's help in recapturing him. They succeed at doing so and Clem lets Stan sleep in the tent. Shortly after Stan starts working for Madame Zeena, a clairvoyance act performed by Zeena and her alcoholic husband Pete, Stan discovers that Pete gets alcohol from Clem. Minutes later, Clem decides to show Stan his alcohol, but not before showing him his collection of pickled fetuses, whose corpses he keeps inside jars, especially Enoch, his favorite, which is part of the strange things the circus displays. He then shows Stan his alcohol bottles, but warns him to not steal them before asking him to take some wood alcohol for Pete.

The next night, Clem shows Stan that the injury on the geek's head (which Stan inflicted on him when stopping him from escaping) has caused an infection and the geek's gonna die soon. As such, the two go to a shelter and Clem rings the bell before running away from there with Stan, who stays behind a while to put the geek out of the rain, much to Clem's impatience. The two then go for dinner to a restaurant and there Clem tells Stan the process of how he gets new geeks for his geek show: he seeks World War I veterans or drunkards addicted to alcohol and opium, and then gives them alcohol spiked with opium. Consequently, the individuals who consume it become too adicted and become subservient with him, allowing him to make them his geeks until he finds a new one when they can't keep any longer.This understandably horrifies Stan, but Clem doesn't seem to care.

After returning to the circus, Stan hears alongside Pete how Clem "breaks" a new geek before Pete asks him if he can get him a bottle of sugarcane from Clem's collection. Stan does so and Pete is found dead the next day for reasons unknown, though Clem doesn't seem to be aware of this. Later that day, four police cars arrive at the circus to investigate, leading Stan to warn Clem about this, so Clem orders him to buy some time while he drags the geek to hide him somewhere. Stan does so and ultimately manages to talk Marshal Jedediah Judd out from closing down the circus by using some of the tricks Zeena and Pete taught him. Clem celebrates with Stan and the others, praising Stan for his trickery before Stan goes to be alone with Molly, one of the performers, and the two agree to leave the circus.

That's the last time Clem is seen in the movie. After this, he doesn't appear again, not even after the two years time skip. The rest of the film deals with what Stan does with his career as an apparent medium and what happens because of his cons. Nuff said.


Okay, as Nightmare Alley is a stand-alone story, its Heinous Standards are defined within the characters who appear in the story and nothing more. So before recaping in further detail what Clem does with his victims, let's check what the other characters do:

  • Stanton Carlisle, the protagonist, isn't a good fella at all. While the first half of the film does show him in a sympathethic way despite doing some questionable things like kissing Madame Zeena after she provokes him, we later get to discover some things, like for example, that he killed his father to get back at him for neglecting him in his childhood. Once he learns how to "speak with the dead", he starts conning some people by posing as a medium, and this brings big consequences. However, he does seem to not be a full bad guy, as he shows pity for the first geek he sees and seems to actually love Molly until she leaves him.
  • Lillith Ritter, the film's main antagonist, is an enigmatic psychologist who tries to expose Stan for the fraud he really is. However, she at first seems to make a deal with him by giving him secrets of her patients (whom she secretly records) so he can use them in his séances. Her actions ultimately lead to the murder-suicide of Judge Kimball and his wife, an elderly couple who lost their son Julian, and to the death of Ezra Giumble, an old man who possibly hurt her in the past, and ultimately gets away with her actions by using Stan as an scapegoat after trying to kill him. Her involvement in those deaths is too indirect, however, as something could have been different in other circumstances, and suggests a tragic past due to a torso injury.
  • Ezra Gimble, one of Ritter's patients, is also somewhat shady, due to his supposedly evil past, as he admits having forced his girlfriend Dorrie to abort (which led to her death) and to have hurt many women after that (it's not clear how he abused them). However, he actually seems regretful of whatever he did and tries to beg Dorrie for forgiveness when Stan tries to con him. Once he realizes it was all a ruse, he slaps Molly and tries to attack Stan before Stan kills him, but one can say that was reactionary due to Stan trying to profit from his pain. There are theories that he may have been the patient who hurt Ritter, but that's unconfirmed.
  • Anderson is Ezra Gimble's bodyguard, but the worst he does is threatening Stan and trying to kill him and Molly after they con and kill his boss, proving that he was loyal to him, and nothing more.
  • Lastly, we have the unnamed circus owner at the end, who seemingly does the same things Clement Hoately does, but his actions are mostly speculation, so let's speak now about what Clem does to stand out.
  • As an additional fact, Adolf Hitler is mentioned in passing by Clem, but given how he never appears onscreen and the effects of World War II don't play a role in the story, he isn't relevant here.

In regards to how Clement Hoately stands out compared to all these characters, is because while all these characters either have much more resources, redeeming qualities or care for someone, Clem lacks all these things: does the worst with what he has, has no redeeming qualities and cares for no one but himself. To summarize his actions, Clement abducts traumatized or naive innocents, like war veterans or drunkards, by himself and tricks them with alcohol spiked with opium, making them subservient to him so they will do anything he wants, precisely, acting as geeks for his circus. He then proceeds to horribly treat them during their stay at his circus by treating them like animals rather than people, caging them, feeding them live chickens and not giving them medical attendance regardless how much they need it. He also drags them whenever they don't want to go to where he wants them to go like if they were things rather than people and even if they die, he doesn't give a heck. He makes sure to psychologically break them upon joining his staff, if Pete's comment of how Clem is holding out on his newest geek is any indication.

While most of Clem's interactions with his staff are limited, it's more than clear that he doesn't care for them at all. He does give Pete a bottle of sugarcane when he pleads him to give him one, but given how all the circus members knew that Pete was an alcoholic, it's clear that Clem gave Pete the alcohol possibly to control him regardless the damage it had on his health, which eventually leads to his death, but while all the performers are seen saddened at Peter's death, Clem is never shown to acknowledge his death or even be concerned for it. What's more, when his circus is nearly closed down, Clem's top priority is hiding his new geek so the police would not discover the inhumane things he does, not expressing any concern over what could happen to his staff (for example, Molly is nearly arrested for indecent exposure), proving that for him, his staff members are nothing more than moneymakers.

In regards to his personality, despite his apparently affable demeanor, Clem is shown to be proud of his process of recruitment when hiring geeks, suggesting that he possibly enjoys making them miserable. After his circus is saved by Stan, he praises him for how he manipulated Marshal Jedediah Judd into not closing them down, but enjoys hearing Stan mocking the sheriff with his explanation of how he talked him out of messing with their operations, so that confirms Clem to be a conniving trickster who will do anything to slip away from the law to keep his shady business afloat. He even seems to have a bizarre obsession with pickled fetuses, as he holds a collection of them on his circus tent. While we don't have details of how he got them, this adds more disturbing implications about his way of being (I haven't seen any American circuses, so I don't know if pickled fetuses were common attractions back the), as he nicknames them, like in Enoch's case, but despite referring to them as his "beauties", he doesn't care for them beyond being seen as attractions, referring to Enoch as a "little fucker" for killing his mother at childbirth, like if Enoch did that intentionally, and considering them "not fitting for living". Due to how Enoch is mentioned to have been sold at the end of the film, it can also be inferred that Clem sells those fetuses, but that's not confirmed, though given the greediness is this guy, it wouldn't be a surprise.

In the end, Clement Hoately is an amoral and greedy circus owner who will abduct anyone with lies and tricks to serve him as "geeks" as long they are useful for him, only to discard his "geeks" once they can't keep it anymore, uncaring to how they are left due to always being able to get more.


One can say that when Clem doesn't count given his friendship with Stan. While Clem's relationship with his employees is never explored, he seems to get along with Stan due to Stan being his newest employee and helping to save his circus, suggesting that his friendship with him may have been out of pragmatism. There are times in which Clem doesn't treat Stan nicely, like when he threatens him if he ever tries to steal his alcohol or when he insists to leave the geek in the rain and curses when Stan refuses to leave the geek there, proving that the friendship isn't genuine. That's likely why Clem doesn't say goodbye to Stan when he and Molly leave the circus.

In regards to the geeks, there's one scene in which Clem orders Stan to stop beating the geek when he tries to escape, but even if he ordered him to stop the beating because if the geek died he had to seek another, he doesn't even care for his injured geek, as he drops him carelessly back to his cage. While there may be times in which he appears to be nice to his geeks, he just acts like he cares to ensure they don't leave his circus.

He at one point mentions Adolf Hitler by saying "That little Kraut, the one that looks like Chaplin, he just invaded Poland! The balls on him". However, him insulting Hitler doesn't mean he opposes his ideology, as Clem is as bad as the Nazis by the treatment he gives to his geeks. One can also argue that maybe he was concerned that if the United States of America joined the fight, it could affect his business, hence why he insulted Hitler as he could ruin him.

Lastly, as the ending implies that Stan will serve as a geek for the owner of that new circus, it suggests that Clem's practice wasn't unique to him and others do it, which could mean that if the corrupt system of all circus is that, then Clem could fail the Heinous Standards. However, Clem still manages to stand out due to having more screentime than this minor character, and while the implication is clear, it's ambiguous whether that carnival owner is gonna drug Stan into serving him or not.


Taking all of this into account, I would say yes about considering Clement Hoately to be approved as PE.