Judge Patrick Naugle is driving the party bus to Hell. Climb aboard!
Our reviews of Dante's Inferno (2007) (published September 19th, 2008), Dante's Inferno (2010) (published February 15th, 2010), and Dante's Inferno (2010) (Blu-ray) (published February 19th, 2010) are also available.
Hell hath no fury like a carnival barker scorned!
If you have ever wanted to see Hollywood icon Spencer Tracy in black face, here's your chance. Dante's Inferno features the golden age actor as a carnival worker who sticks his painted face through a curtain to get baseballs hurled at his mug by paying carnival customers. It's an odd and somewhat unsettling sight to see an actor of Tracy's caliber being pegged with objects while wearing a symbolism of racism. That and other bizarre sights are in store for anyone who sits through the strange tale of Dante's Inferno.
Dante's Inferno features Spencer Tracy as Jim Carter, a down-on-his-luck luxury liner furnace stoker who is fired from his job for faking an injury. Jim takes a job at a traveling carnival and meets up with Pop McWade (Harry B. Walthall, Wings), the owner of "Dante's Inferno", a carnival show act depicting hell which Pop uses to help people see the error of their ways. The story is basically a parable about the dangers of greed and hubris, a reflection of the character Tracy will eventually become. It's a movie that's rather heavy handed with its Biblical morals, often clubbing viewers over the head with religious imagery and agonizing damnation. Rita Hayworth (in one of her earliest films) plays Jim's eventual wife, who spends most of the movie just looking radiant because, a) that's what Rita Hayworth did best and, b) Hayworth's role is so underwritten as to be almost inconsequential.
The film's best moments come inside the inferno, which is a large cavern that is pretty much what you'd expect an old time version of hell to look like. The production design was clearly expensive with fire, stone caverns, and bubbling pools threatening the gawking customers (some of creepier shots were taken from 1924's Dante's Inferno, same title but a different film). Some of the scenes in hell are truly startling, including one sequence where victims of hell's evils have been turned into part human, part tree, and all agony. Eventually disaster strikes with Dante's Inferno crumbling around the customers, a sort of like a precursor to the 1970s disaster movie craze.
This isn't a movie of much substance, and what substance there is hangs over it like a dark pall, as if director Harry Lachman (who also helmed the 1934 Shirley Temple film Baby Take a Bow) wanted to formulate a sermon and not an actual movie with real characters and plot. It's fun to see Spencer Tracy in one of his very early roles (his enthusiasm shines through especially as he's taken over by his vices), but the movie around him doesn't live up to his enormous talent.
Dante's Inferno is presented in 1.37:1 full frame in black and white. On par with a lot of Fox Cinema Archive releases, this transfer is at best passable, and at worst sub-par. The image is often grainy and not in great shape with defects aplenty to be seen. Fans will be happy that the film is finally on DVD, but this transfer isn't much to write home about. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. The audio mix is mostly clear with easily distinguishable sound effects, dialogue, and music. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are available on this disc. There are no bonus features.
For those who want to watch scenes of cinematic brimstone and fire (which truly are spectacular in their own weird way), Dante's Inferno offers a lot as a true Hollywood oddity. However, if you're looking for anything more than a nice looking film, start praying.
Heavenly when it comes to visual flair. Hellish when it comes to character
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