Review

  • The best thing about Inferno is that, like the Aeneid, it jumps right into the middle of the action. Out in a southwestern desert, under the baking sun, lies Robert Ryan, with his leg broken and only a meager supply of food and water. He's been left to die by his wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her lover (William Lundigan). There's no backstory, no lead-up to the crucial events; what little we need to know gets doled out as the movie advances, but never in flashback.

    Of course, anybody can be left to die in the desert by a philandering spouse, but it helps if you're a millionaire, like Ryan. We learn that he inherited his fortune and wonders whether he deserves it, and that he's a tough and private man who suffers no fools gladly (the part's basically a reworking of Ryan's Smith Ohlrig in Max Ophuls' Caught).

    The rest of Inferno cross-cuts between Ryan's attempts to survive by his wits and Fleming's and Lundigan's to throw the local police and Ryan's business associates back in Los Angeles off track. After several days elapse, when it becomes apparent that Ryan may still be alive and on the move, Fleming and Lundigan decide that, in order to save themselves, they have to go back and finish the job....

    Inferno was issued in 1953, the annus mirabilis of 3-D. Unlike most titles filmed in that short-lived gimmick, it stands pretty well on its own – even the hurtling rocks, striking rattlers and flaming rafters stay effective without knocking viewers over the head. But basically it's a story of a man born to wealth who, to stay alive, must negotiate a deadly wilderness where money proves worthless. Watching Ryan do so is worth giving Inferno a look.