Monday, May 22, 2006

INFERNO (1953)

If there was a genre called "desert noir," this melodrama would be its crowning gem. As it is, many reviewers call this one of the best 3-D movies ever made. Unfortunately, I've only seen it in "flat" format, but it's still a good solid thriller. The movie begins smack in the middle of the action, with very little backstory presented: millionaire Robert Ryan has been left to die in the desert, with a broken leg and almost no food, by his wife, Rhonda Fleming, and her lover, William Lundigan. The first half of the film cuts back and forth between Ryan, as he hobbles through the desert looking for help, and the two lovers who bide their time as their plan to lead the police astray works for a while. Because Ryan, who is apparently an unlikable son-of-a-bitch, has a habit of vanishing for days at a time, no one misses him for several days; by the time his business partners get worried and Fleming misdirects the searchers, the two assume that Ryan will be long dead. However, the hubby proves to be quite resourceful, able to splint his leg, dig for water, and hunt small animals for food; these scenes are exciting at first, but get to be a bit tiring, as least partly because virtually all of Ryan's dialogue is delivered as voiceover interior monologue and lacks immediacy. The illicit lovers stay apart until the rains come, when they assume that any tracks they've left will be obliterated, then they fuck like bunnies (or so we are to assume given their hungry embrace as the storm arrives). Soon, Lundigan flies out to the scene of the crime, doesn't see a corpse, and realizes that Ryan may still be alive, leading to the tense finale with all three stuck in the desert and a doozy of a fistfight between Ryan and Lundigan in a burning cabin. Unlike in some 3-D films, the gimmicky technique isn't terribly obvious until the end, when a lit lantern is thrown at the camera, and the cabin's flaming ceiling collapses right in the viewer's face. Ryan is his usual rugged self; Fleming, whom I've not seen much of, is quite good as the sexy femme fatale; the blandly handsome Lundigan does a nice job in the thankless role of the vacant lover whom you know from the beginning will probably not get out of the triangle alive. The even more handsome Carl Betz, best known as Donna Reed's husband on her early 60s sitcom, has a small role as a sheriff, and Henry Hull plays a grizzled old prospector who plays an important role near the end. I would have liked a bit more background on all three characters; as it is, we have no idea whether the lovers planned Ryan's injury, or improvised and took advantage of an unplanned accident. We also never see evidence of Ryan's unpleasant personality, which I guess helps get us on his side fairly quickly. I had never heard of this film before I ran across its description on our onscreen cable guide, and given my anti-50s bias, I almost skipped it, but I'm glad I didn't. Now if Fox would put it out on DVD, in 3-D, with the cool glasses... [FMC]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just watched this movie on Tivo. I loved it. Totally enthralled. Until the end. Not of the movie. But the end of the tape. Tivo cut it off before the end. Can someone PLEASE tell me how it ends. I saw the fight in the cabin and the fire. I saw the two guys in the car driving down the road and pulling up along-side the wife. Then it cut off. PLEASE. How does it end? You can e-mail me at if you don't want to spoil it for anyone else.