Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Inferno (1953) at the Egyptian Theatre

Tonight was a terrific night of 3-D film noir at the World 3-D Film Expo at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre. Two movies from 1953, INFERNO and I, THE JURY, were shown in "dual 35mm" prints with old-fashioned cardboard 3-D glasses.

I was happy to be able to enjoy the first movie on tonight's schedule, INFERNO, with Lindsay of Lindsay's Movie Musings. Lindsay also wrote a great report on the screening at her blog so be sure to pop over for a visit!

Our host for the evening was Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation. Alan's enthusiastic and informative introductions are always a treat and add a lot of fun to the viewing experience.

One of the interesting things Alan shared tonight was that after the 3-D craze died out, the studios split up the dual prints and shipped the reels out singly for "flat" screenings -- so reconstruction of some 3-D films has meant painstakingly running prints, or parts of prints, together to see if they are the correct puzzle pieces which will match up to form a 3-D picture.

Leonard Maltin recently wrote that it may be very difficult to see these films in their original 35mm 3-D in the future, as the digital revolution marches on. I'm not a huge fan of 3-D but I do enjoy the opportunity to see these historic films of the '50s in their original format from time to time, and the prints shown tonight provided an outstanding viewing experience.

The enthusiastic audience included actor Clu Gulagher sitting in the very front row; as a longtime fan of THE VIRGINIAN, I got a kick out of seeing him in person.

INFERNO immediately drops the audience into the action, as we watch Geraldine Carson (Rhonda Fleming) and Joseph Duncan (William Lundigan) mysteriously covering up tracks in the desert during the opening credits sequence.

The audience soon learns that Gerry's wealthy but obnoxious husband, Donald (Robert Ryan), was thrown from his horse in the desert and broke his leg. Geraldine and Joe, who'd been with him, left on horseback and were supposed to send a helicopter to rescue him -- but it seems the pair have suddenly developed the hots for one another, and they decide instead to claim that Donald drove off in a drunken rage and disappeared. They believe he'll die of exposure, leaving them with his money and each other. Gerry tries to justify their actions by claiming that not helping him isn't quite the same thing as killing him...

Donald -- who seems to be an extension of the powerful Ryan character in CAUGHT (1949) -- does indeed seem to be a rather unpleasant fellow, but when he realizes no help is coming, he's not about to up and die.

This was a gripping, absorbing movie which packs a lot of story into its 83 minutes. I enjoyed it quite a bit -- though I have to say it's probably not a movie I would be anxious to rewatch often, as Donald's gritty battle for desert survival is rather exhausting even from the comfort of an air-conditioned theater seat!

Ryan manages to convey a great deal about Donald and his character's evolution despite not having a single other character to interact with for most of the movie. It's all done with visuals and voiceovers conveying what Donald is thinking. Since Ryan can do more with his eyes than most actors can with pages of dialogue, it's the perfect match of actor and role. Donald starts out as a jerk but wins audience sympathy over the course of the film, as the audience comes to admire his determination and quick thinking.

Meanwhile, it's quite unusual to see William Lundigan, so often the stalwart hero in films such as THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL (1949) and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), cast against type as the amoral murderer lusting after lovely Rhonda Fleming, not to mention her husband's money. Lundigan and Fleming's parts were perhaps a little underwritten, but I thought Lundigan did quite well gradually revealing his character's creepiness; I almost gasped as he walked away from Fleming in a scene late in the movie. Deep down, Joe had no gallantry whatsoever, he was all about his own self-preservation.

I also really enjoyed watching Fleming's Gerry "acting" the role of the innocent, concerned wife, then watching her cool, elegant femme fatale unravel and become a whiny mess. One of the marks of a good movie is wondering "what happened next," and I wondered that about Gerry, in particular.

INFERNO made very good use of 3-D, such as a scene where Donald is attempting to lower himself down a cliff wall and rocks start raining down on him from overhead. Moments such as that fit believably in the context of the story -- though the film does also have a couple moments where something is thrown suddenly to startle the audience, just because it's 3-D!

The supporting cast includes Larry Keating, Henry Hull, Carl Betz, and Robert Burton.

INFERNO was directed by Roy Ward Baker (I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU), from a script by Francis Cockrell. The cinematographer was Lucien Ballard. Alan Rode provided the information that some of the shooting was done in Apple Valley.

As a side note, I was interested to learn, thanks to stumbling across it on the web, that there was a Viewmaster reel for this movie! A picture from it is seen here, featuring Fleming and Lundigan.

INFERNO is available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.

For additional takes on INFERNO, Colin has written about it at Riding the High Country, and there's a brand-new post up from Ivan on the film at ClassicFlix.

7 Comments:

OpenID angelnumber25 said...

Great review, and thanks for the shoutout! It was wonderful to meet up last night. I think my favorite 3D effect was the "structure damage" during the climax of the film. I haven't seen much with Robert Ryan, but I've always liked him as an actor, and it was nice to see him as one of the good guys this time.

Have a great weekend!

- Lindsay

1:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Lindsay! I agree, that shot was very impressive!

If you haven't yet seen CAUGHT, I think you'd find it very interesting as perhaps sort of a "prequel" to INFERNO. He plays a rather scary rich, powerful man. James Mason, who of course often played bad guys himself, gets to play the hero in that one.

I recommend Ryan's ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952) especially highly. His performance is really something else.

It was great to see you and hear what you've been doing of late, including the Cinecon fest. Hope we will meet up again before too long!

Best wishes,
Laura

1:12 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Hi Laura,
I have seen INFERNO in 3D and feel that it plays very well
flat.Rhonda and William Lundigan also teamed up for the
Sam Katzman/William Castle film SERPENT OF THE NILE.
That film is pretty high on my wants list "trash addict"
that I am.
I always wondered why Lundigan never made more Westerns
he really reminds me of Joel McCrea.
I always thought it rather strange that Roy Baker ended up making
those later Hammer Films;thats where the money was I guess.
After his career in Hollywood he made some exceptional British
films in the Fifties.
I really enjoyed your take on I THE JURY yet another title
on my "must track down" list.

7:23 AM  
Blogger grandoldmovies said...

I've seen this movie in 3D and it was, as you note, quite gripping to watch; and Ryan is excellent in it. You have to admire the realism he brought to his part. It's also a great noir story, with Lundigan and Fleming about as sleazy a pair as any noir addict could wish for!

4:30 PM  
Blogger Kristina D said...

this was fun to read, I've seen Inferno via a pretty poor orangey version on TV and still really enjoyed its intensity and cast, so I'd love to see this real 3D version! glad you liked it!

10:07 AM  
OpenID livius1 said...

Hi Laura, just noticed this.

Firstly, thanks very much for linking to my old post on the movie - typically kind and generous of you.

It's great too that you got to see this movie on the big screen; I envy you. Personally, the 3-D aspect holds little interest for me, not beyond the historical significance anyway.

And I really like your comments about Ryan and what a powerful performer he was. The ability to hold the viewers' attention with no-one else to play off for long periods at a stretch is no mean feat.

Colin

2:15 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John! Enjoyed hearing your thoughts on how INFERNO plays flat. I've got a TCM recording of SERPENT OF THE NILE I'm going to have to check out now for comparison, I'm glad you mentioned that Fleming and Lundigan costar. I've got a real soft spot for Lundigan -- I seem to like those guys that some people find kind of "square," like Lundigan, Richard Carlson, George Brent... Hope you can see I, THE JURY too, I suspect you would find it a lot of fun.

Really enjoyed the feedback from everyone who's seen this, 3D or flat!

Grand Old Movies, I agree, Lundigan and Fleming made great sleazy characters -- especially at the end.

Kristina, it says a lot about the movie's strong storytelling that you enjoyed it, orangey print and all!

Colin, I really enjoyed your post on this film and it was my pleasure to share it. I'm not a huge 3-D fan, though I appreciate the historical significance and the chance to see the films in their original format -- it was fun. Robert Ryan is certainly a remarkable actor.

Best wishes,
Laura

9:33 PM  

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