• Inferno

    Released by: Twilight Time
    Released on: May 16, 2017
    Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
    Cast: Robert Ryan, Rhonda Fleming, William Lundigan, Larry Keating, Henry Hull, Carl Betz, Robert Burton, Robert Adler, Harry Carter, Everett Glass, Adrienne Marden, Barbara Pepper, Charles Tannen, Dan White
    Year: 1953
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Inferno begins with Geraldine (Rhonda Fleming) and Joe (William Lundigan) making their way out of the desert, planting evidence as they go. It transpires that Geraldine’s millionaire husband, Don (Robert Ryan), has fallen off his horse and broken his leg; now the adulterous Geraldine and her lover have gone for help. In reality, they plan to tell authorities that Don is missing. They report his last known location as being many miles from where Don actually is, hoping that by the time authorities actually find the man—if they find him at all—he’ll be dead, Geraldine can collect his fortune, and the two can marry. What they don’t count on is Don’s determination to live. Despite his broken leg and his location high in the mountains, the man’s will is matched only by his industriousness. He resets his own leg, binds it with splints, makes a rope out of his sleeping bag, and begins to make his way down from the mountains and into the surrounding desert. He rations his food, and along the way he slakes his thirst and hunger with cactus juice and the meat of the wild animals he shoots.

    Fearing that Don may somehow survive after all, Joe flies a plane into the desert mountains in search of him, only to discover that he isn’t where they left him. He and Geraldine return in a car and with a gun to finish him off, but things don’t go as planned.

    Inferno is a striking film. Shot by British director Roy Ward Baker near the beginning of his Hollywood career (and long before he made the Hammer horror films for which he is most famous today), the film is a survivalist fever dream, a thrilling film noir set in an unusual and brightly lit setting. Atypical of the subgenre, Inferno features none of its usual style and panache, opting instead for a more realistic approach. Baker doesn’t waste any time setting the story up; in fact, it can be argued that he begins in the middle of the action and works his way out, slowly revealing just what Geraldine and Joe are up to. And rather than focus on a revenge or typical crime scenario, he instead emphasizes Don’s struggle to survive in a hostile and alien environment. And it’s in these moments, when Don is dodging rattlers or digging for water, that the film really comes alive. One never doubts that Geraldine and Joe are going to get their comeuppance, though it happens in an unexpected way.

    Make no mistake about it, this is Robert Ryan’s picture all the way. While Fleming was known as the queen of Technicolor because of her flaming red hair, her beauty doesn’t distract from Ryan’s restrained and naturalistic performance. That he’s so good only reveals the limitations in Fleming’s melodramatic performance exposes William Lundigan’s embarrassing display of wood. Ryan was typecast as a rugged leading man, often playing cops, cowboys, or military captains in lead roles; it was a role he didn’t always relish, longing to be cast as more conventionally romantic leads. (For the record, he was once miscast as John the Baptist in the biblical epic King of Kings, 1961.)

    If there are problems with Inferno, they certainly aren’t with Ryan; they aren’t even with the supporting cast, as flat or overly melodramatic as some of them are. They’re with the fairly obvious plot holes. Regardless, the film moves too quickly and Ryan is too captivating to worry too much about them.


    Inferno comes to Blu-ray in beautiful 1080p high definition at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 Thanks to Twilight Time, the BD50 disc also contains two versions of the film, one in 2D, one in glorious 3D. The film has clearly been given a recent and superior remaster, one that brings out every detail of the rocky desert location. Everything from pebbles to boulders, minor bits of foliage to cacti and Joshua trees, stands out, so much so that the film practically appears 3D even in its two-dimensional form. Ryan’s soiled clothing, Lundigan’s jackets, and Fleming’s makeup have never been so meticulously rendered. Colors are likewise gorgeous. While most of the film takes place outdoors, the few internal shots feature stunning depictions of reds and yellows and greens and blues. The outdoor scenes look even better, conveying a whole range of reds and oranges in the sunbaked clays and rusty rocks. Grain looks natural, providing a filmic look to the image without ever being blown out, and there are no examples of crush. There are some minor white specks here and there, along with minor print damage right at the beginning, but these will hardly bother the discerning film fan.

    But forget the 2D version. If you don’t have a 3D TV and Blu-ray player, it’s time to get them. This film is the perfect classic with which to showcase the formula. It’s a sight to behold. The image is lush and deep, with multiple layers to the frame. Lucien Ballard’s rich cinematography, particularly during the desert sequences, surely never looked better than it does here. For most of the film’s duration, there are only a few instances in which something flies toward camera (a striking snake, falling rocks); the rest of the time, Baker is content to allow the 3D to move backward into the frame, so that foreground objects stand in greater relief not only against the human characters just beyond them but also against the cacti and mountains in the far distance. At least until the end, when, during the film’s fiery climax, he throws everything but the kitchen sink at the screen in a stunning display of the format. Best of all, this version of the film loses none of the detail that graces the 2D version; it remains as sharp and colorful as its standard counterpart, with the same minor speckling (some of which almost appears 3D itself), crystal clarity, and mild, natural grain.

    The 2D version features an MPEG-4 AVC encode, while the 3D version features an MPEG-4 MVC encode.

    The film was originally shot utilizing state-of-the-art stereophonic sound equipment, so it’s a shame the transfer supplied by Fox features the film’s primary track in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. The sound isn’t terrible, but it likely could have been a little richer. On the positive side, the score remains a dramatic accentuation of the action, particularly in the survivalist scenes, and nothing can detract from the film’s superior image. There are also English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired, a standard on Twilight Time releases. A second track features only the film’s score and is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0. It sounds quite good despite the patches sans music. Finally, rounding out the audio extras is a commentary, ported over from a previous Fox DVD release, by film historian Alan K. Rode. Rode discusses the original story on which the film was based and how it came to be filmed. His comments are insightful, revealing where the film was shot as well as the backgrounds of the stars and some of the crew. He begins with Rhonda Fleming and moves through many of the other members, calling them out as they first appear. There are a few quiet patches as Rode paces himself for the long haul, and there are a few places in which he describes the action onscreen. He’s also helped out on the commentary by actor Ryan’s daughter, Lisa. Clearly the two commentators were recorded separately and their remarks spliced together, with Rode naturally dominating as the person who has clearly studied the film. Ryan’s commentary is also slightly lower in sound, and she focuses solely on her father’s life and career.

    There are a couple of extras, also ported over from Fox’s former DVD, including the theatrical trailer, which runs at two minutes and thirteen seconds. Then there’s the featurette “A New Dimension of Noir: Filming Inferno in 3D” (15:34), which covers exactly what it sounds like it’s going to. It features a number of film historians, including Rode, Robert Osborne, Dan Symmes, Gary Giddens, Eddie Muller, Kim Morgan, and Foster Hirsch, among others, as well as Lisa Ryan and star Rhonda Fleming. All of them hype the film a bit more than it deserves, but the program is interesting nonetheless.

    Twilight Time has included an eight-page booklet featuring liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo, a recreation of the original theatrical one-sheet, and red-tinted stills from the film. Kirgo provides ample information about the film’s background, and her writing is smart and perceptive. She rightfully recognizes, for example, that the film’s raison d’etre is Robert Ryan himself.

    Twilight Time’s BD release of Inferno features 24 chapters, is a limited edition of 3,000 units, and is region free.

    The Final Word:

    Inferno is a wildly divergent film noir in an unconventional setting. While far from perfect (there are just a few too many plot problems), it’s fast moving and entertaining, and Robert Ryan nails the central performance. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release looks stunning in 2D and even better in 3D. Given the crisp transfer and informative extras, this is the definitive release of a Hollywood classic.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Scott's Avatar
      Scott -
      This movie is fantastic! I watched it twice this weekend. Really could not get enough of Robert Ryan's internal monologue. Gorgeous scenery too.