Cast & Crew
In a remote area of the Mojave Desert, mining engineer Joseph Duncan and his lover, Geraldine Carson, lay a false trail to convince searchers that Gerry's husband, millionaire Donald Whitley Carson III, wandered off into the desert after his car broke down. Upon their return to the dude ranch at which they are staying, Gerry and Duncan tell the staff that Donald, drunk and impatient with the slowness of their trek on horseback, left and took the car. Unknown to Sheriff Vincent and others who begin to search for Donald, while Donald, Gerry and Duncan were riding through a distant canyon to investigate Duncan's manganese claim, Donald fell off his horse and broke his ankle. Leaving him a blanket and a small amount of food and water, Gerry and Duncan claimed to be going for help, but instead decided to leave Donald to die and lead searchers in the opposite direction. Gerry soon returns to the Carsons' Los Angeles mansion to alert Donald's lawyer, Dave Emory, that Donald has disappeared. At first Dave is not concerned, as the tempermental, alcoholic Donald has gone missing before. Eventually, however, when the trackers can find no further trace of Donald after following the false trail, it becomes obvious that Donald is truly lost. Meanwhile, in the canyon, Donald has deduced that Duncan and Gerry have betrayed him, and despite their belief that the spoiled millionaire would simply give up and shoot himself, he resolves to return to civilization to obtain revenge. After painfully setting his broken ankle with a makeshift splint, Donald manufactures a rope with pieces of the blanket and begins the difficult process of lowering himself to the canyon floor. Pain and exhaustion threaten to overwhelm him, and he panics when some of the precious water in his canteen spills out, but nonetheless perseveres. Back at the guest ranch, Dave has arrived with Gerry and Duncan to continue the search, and Duncan reassures Gerry that once it rains and wipes out any tracks they left in the canyon, they will be completely safe. The lovers decide not to see each other until it rains, to avoid suspicion, and return to Los Angeles after Dave leaves on business. After a week goes by, Donald finally reaches the bottom of the canyon, and just as he wonders if he will die from thirst, he finds some barrel cactus and uses his knife to dig out the moist tissue inside. Donald then spots an abandoned mine shaft and uses one of the timbers to make a crutch, but his triumph turns to despair when a coyote steals a rabbit he has shot. Uncertain that he will live to have his vengeance, Donald sits at the canyon bottom, and as he muses on the cycle of the seasons, he realizes that there must be water beneath the canyon floor. After digging a waterhole, Donald uses his last bullet to kill a small deer, then dries the meat in the sun. While Donald is congratulating himself on his resourcefulness, it finally begins to rain, and in Los Angeles, Duncan and Gerry are thrilled that their plan seems to have succeeded. With a supply of meat and water, Donald begins to hobble through the desert and periodically lights fires to attract attention. He is thrilled to see an airplane overhead one day, but when the plane circles the canyon, he realizes that it must be Duncan checking to see if he has died. The pilot is indeed Duncan, who reports to Gerry that Donald's blanket is gone and a waterhole has appeared in the canyon bottom. Fearing that Duncan saw his signal fire, Donald moves as fast as he can, although he knows that Duncan can find him. The next day, Duncan and Gerry drive out to the desert to kill Donald, and while Gerry watches with binoculars from the car, Duncan stalks Donald. Just as Duncan is about to shoot Donald, however, the relieved millionaire is picked up by prospector Sam Elby, who was driving his ancient jalopy from town to his desert home. When Duncan returns to his car, he discovers that Gerry had tried to leave him behind but drove the car into a rock and broke the crankshaft. Duncan angrily sets off to walk to town, with Gerry following and pleading for him to wait. While Donald eats and rests in Elby's shack, Elby questions him about his plans. Donald realizes that his experiences have changed him, and that his wealth is no longer the most important thing in his life, nor does he hunger for revenge any longer. Meanwhile, Duncan leaves Gerry behind and reaches the shack. Realizing that he can salvage the situation, Duncan knocks Elby unconscious when he goes outside to fetch water, then enters the shack and engages in a fierce fistfight with Donald. During the struggle, the stove is knocked over and starts a fire, and Donald is able to knock Duncan out before collapsing himself. Elby revives and drags Donald to safety just before the roof caves in and kills Duncan. In the morning, Elby and Donald are driving to town when they find Gerry staggering along the road, and Donald tells her that she can either come with them or wait for the sheriff to pick her up.
Arthur L. Kirbach
It's hard to pigeonhole Inferno in any single genre. The marketing for its first run touted it as "the most breath-taking man hunt and violent love that ever criss-crossed out of the screen," making it sound like a prototypical film noir, which it definitely is, notwithstanding its glowing Technicolor hues. Yet since noir wasn't really a genre - it was a cycle that intersected with many actual genres - Inferno can just as legitimately be called a western, thanks to the desert location and the sight of William Lundigan and Rhonda Fleming wearing cowboy hats and sitting on horses. Then too, Inferno is an action-adventure tale of survival against the odds, with Robert Ryan battling the elements in a parched and scorching environment where he's stranded with a broken leg and few supplies. All of which makes Inferno a surprising picture as well as an enjoyable one.
Dispensing with introductory flourishes, the picture plunges into its story without delay, catching Joe Duncan (Lundigan) and his married mistress, Geraldine Carson (Fleming), in the course of an unusual crime. Gerry's husband, Donald Carson (Ryan), owns a successful mining company. Joe works for Donald and is having a torrid affair with Gerry on the sly. The three traveled into the desert to inspect a prospecting site, and Donald broke his leg in a fall from his horse. Promising to return immediately with medical help, Joe and Gerry left Donald languishing on a hilltop, equipped with a pistol, a water canteen, and not much else. When we meet Joe and Gerry in the opening scene, they've already concluded that they shouldn't return to Joe at all. If they abandon him and misdirect the police who launch a search party, Donald will surely die of exposure, allowing his disloyal employee and unfaithful wife to carry on their affair and inherit his business.
Joe feels no pangs of conscience over this nasty scheme, and Gerry gets rid of hers by deciding they're not murdering Donald, only opting not to rescue him. What the duplicitous duo fails to reckon with is Donald's reawakening will to live. In the past he's been a heavy drinker with a reckless personality, but the prospect of a lingering death in the desert lends new focus to his mind. Fashioning a splint for his leg and protective pads for his hands, he scrambles down from the rocky hilltop and starts a long, hard trek back to civilization. Inferno cuts between his adventures - foraging for water, hunting for food, signaling for help with fire and smoke - and the machinations of Joe and Gerry, whose conspiracy seems to be working nicely until Joe pilots a plane over the crime area and discovers that Donald is alive, on the move, and surely bent on revenge.
A great deal of Inferno centers on Donald's solitary struggle in the wilderness, brought to life by Ryan's eloquent facial expressions and intensely delivered voiceovers. Ryan was a first-class boxer in his youth, and his athleticism shines through in the difficult exploits - lowering himself down a cliffside, dodging showers of falling rocks - that Joe has to complete to stay alive. In the noir-style melodramatic scenes, Lundigan capitalizes on his sturdy good looks and famously smooth-toned voice while Fleming plays the slightly reluctant femme fatale with the poise and beauty that were her trademarks. The solid supporting cast includes Larry Keating as Donald's lawyer, Robert Burton and Carl Betz as police officers on the hunt for Donald, and Henry Hull as a grizzled prospector who precipitates the climax by finding the missing magnate, bringing him to his isolated cabin, and saving him a second time when a fight with Joe sets the shack ablaze.
Inferno was directed by Roy Ward Baker, known as Roy Baker at that stage of his career. His thoroughgoing professionalism is visible throughout the swiftly paced story, despite the challenge of working with an unwieldy double-camera 3D system in Apple Valley, a portion of the Mojave where apple trees hadn't flourished for a long time and temperatures could be drastically colder than you'd guess from this movie's title and premise. The picture was a Twentieth Century Fox project, and while studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck often looked over the shoulders of his directors, Baker had a great deal of creative freedom since Zanuck was busy supervising Henry Koster's epic The Robe, released as the first-ever CinemaScope production about a month after Inferno premiered.
Zanuck rightly foresaw that widescreen movies would have a far brighter future than 3D novelties, and Inferno can be seen as a momentary effort to hedge his bet in case 3D managed to stick around. The studio never returned to the format, and sure enough, 3D fizzled out after CinemaScope took hold. Baker and Ballard serve up the requisite number of in-your-face 3D thrills, from the strike of a rattlesnake and the fall of a boulder to a fiercely hurled lantern and a roof collapsing in a cascade of flames. But their approach to the format is generally tasteful, used primarily to convey a sense of the desert's sprawling spaces and lurking dangers. In any case, Inferno has as much power in two dimensions as in three. Film editor Robert Simpson also livens up the action with some witty and surprising cuts.
The 1953 review of Inferno in The New York Times criticized it for being "laboriously explicit at times" and for "hoarding the fireworks till the finale," but the critic had high praise for the "adult and restrained treatment" that imbues the "simple, grim story idea with conviction, irony and chilling crescendo." The picture still holds up impressively as a film noir, a western, an action-adventure yarn, and an entertaining example of spirited screen storytelling.
Director: Roy Baker
Producer: William Bloom
Screenplay: Francis Cockrell
Cinematographer: Lucien Ballard
Film Editing: Robert Simpson
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Lewis Creber
Music: Paul Sawtell
With: Robert Ryan (Donald Whitley Carson III), Rhonda Fleming (Geraldine Carson), William Lundigan (Joseph Duncan), Larry Keating (Dave Emory), Henry Hull (Sam Elby), Carl Betz (Lt. Mike Platt), Robert Burton (Sheriff)
by David Sterritt
Voice-over narration by Robert Ryan, as his character "Donald Whitley Carson III," is heard intermittently throughout the film. Hollywood Reporter production charts for the picture list Robert Fritch as the film editor, but only Robert Simpson is listed in the onscreen credits. Although the film was produced in 3-D, the print viewed was in standard format. Inferno was the first and only picture produced in 3-D by Twentieth Century-Fox. October 1953 news items noted that Inferno would not be released in 3-D in England, however, due to the limited number of theaters that were equipped for the process. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the film was shot on location at Apple Valley, CA.
Released in United States 1953
Released in United States 1953