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"Dante's Inferno" (1935) is a taut drama starring Spencer Tracy as a ruthless promoter who's determined to succeed, no matter who gets in his way. Eventually he gets a glimpse of Hell and sees the error of his ways ... but is it too late for him to repair all the damage he's done to other people's lives?
This film was inspired by (but is not a remake of) a 1924 film with the same title: both films have the same premise but very different plotlines.
We first see Tracy's character Jim Carter on the bottom rung: the Depression is on, and Carter is so desperate he takes a job as a blackface performer. Then he gets a job in a carnival attraction which offers the customers a quick ride through Hell (made of papier-mache).
There's a brilliant performance by Alan Dinehart, one of those great supporting actors from Hollywood's golden age. Dinehart specialised in playing sharp guys on the edge of the law (or slightly beyond it), and this is one of Dinehart's best roles. Henry Walthall, the silent-film star, is also excellent here.
The standout sequence in the film begins when Tracy is in hospital, recovering from injuries. Walthall brings him a copy of Dante's "Inferno", and proceeds to describe the horrible fates awaiting sinners in the afterworld. On screen, we see a series of stark tableaux in which naked men and women suffer eternal torments in Hell ... dodging flames, writhing in chains, turning into trees. For some reason, all the naked people in Hell have gorgeous physiques: apparently Hell doesn't take any chubsters.
"Dante's Inferno" is often mentioned by Rita Hayworth fans, because this movie includes one of her very earliest film roles. (She was still performing as Margarita Cansino, her original name.) Hayworth/Cansino appears very briefly as a ballroom dancer aboard Tracy's gambling ship. This is a standout film, but if you think it's a Rita Hayworth movie you'll be disappointed.
I strongly recommend "Dante's Inferno".
No one has commented that Dante's Inferno, starring Spencer Tracy, was
clearly based on a true story.
In the main part of the 1935 movie, Tracy plays an unscrupulous amusement park owner who decides his next attraction will be a trip through Hell called "Dante's Inferno". In his usual corner-cutting manner, fire protection measures are short-changed with the inevitable result that there is a disastrous fire. Following this is a dream sequence in which Dante's vision of Hell is re-enacted and Tracy is appropriately punished. Finally there is an ending that I won't reveal.
The non-fantasy part of the story is strikingly similar to an actual, highly publicized, event that took place about 20 years earlier than the conception of the movie. At that time, Coney Island, which is part of Brooklyn, itself part of New York City, was the premier amusement park area of the world. There were two parks, Steeplechase, which emphasized fun and sex, and Luna Park, which emphasized art and youth. William H. Reynolds, an underhanded real estate developer and former Republican state senator, was attracted by the profits and decided to create a third giant park. He called his Dreamland.
Following his typical pattern, Reynolds, through his ties to the corrupt Tammany Democratic political machine, was able to have streets closed to make some inexpensive land suitable for a large amusement park. This deprived poor people of access to the beach, but so what? Patrons of his park, and of luxury hotels, had no problem.
Oddly, his concept, despite the usual sleazy attractions, also had morality, even religiosity, as a major theme. It started off with an attraction called Genesis, the Bible story of the creation of the world. There was another called Destruction of Pompeii, presumably as payment for wickedness. His crowning effort along this line was called Hell Gate, a fantasy ride through Hell, with a gigantic Satan smirking over the entrance.
In the early hours of May 27, 1911, as they rushed to ready the attraction for the Spring opening, workers accidentally started a fire. Firefighters responded, but because of low water pressure (for which many also blamed Reynolds' machinations), could not prevent its spread and all of Dreamland, including Hell Gate, was destroyed.
Don't you agree that the inspiration, if not the actual plot of the movie Dante's Inferno, was drawn from real life? And isn't it amusing that, considering his behavior, Reynolds was so preoccupied with morality and retribution?
Incidentally, I saw this film when I was 15 and it scared me silly.
Spencer Tracy travels the seven rungs of hell in "Dante's Inferno," a
1935 film costarring Claire Trevor and notable for a dance sequence
featuring Rita Hayworth, still Rita Cansino. I actually hadn't realized
Hayworth was in the film, but when I saw the dancer's smile, I
recognized her immediately.
Tracy plays a man who lucks into carnival barking as a result of meeting a man, played by Henry B. Walthall, who runs a concession known as "Dante's Inferno." Walthall soon becomes Tracy's father-in-law, and Tracy becomes a successful businessman. He launches a huge, gaudy Inferno employing ruthless means to get the property. Though a wonderful husband and father, in his corporate world, he stops at nothing to get what he wants, including cheating, bribery, and ignoring possible dangers. The consequences are disastrous.
The film has an obvious allegory, and I'm still laughing at a previous poster who noted that when Walthall goes through a book with Tracy and the seven rungs of hell come to life, everyone had great physiques so hell must not take chubsters! It's true! Other than hell's preference for perfect 10s, the effects are amazing - the Inferno concession, the images in the book that come to life, and the fantastic ship scene which uses the Inferno images to great effect.
Spencer Tracy is excellent in his role, a tender dad, sweet husband and cruel businessman all at the same time. Claire Trevor is young and lovely and provides strong support for Tracy.
A very interesting film and highly recommended.
An amusement pier attraction based on DANTE'S INFERNO helps change the
life of an unscrupulous concessionaire.
Spencer Tracy dominates this nifty little drama, which keeps its audience satisfied with good acting and special effects. Two disasters (the first on the pier and the second aboard a luxury party liner) add punch to the plot. Between them comes a remarkable 9-minute tour into the depths of the real Inferno, populated by scores of naked extras writhing in anguish. The Depression Era viewers which first saw this film certainly got their money's worth.
Tracy, always entertaining as he schemes & plots his way to unsavory success, is well served by his supporting players: lovely Claire Trevor as his loyal wife; gaunt Henry B. Walthall as Trevor's saintly father; little Scotty Beckett (one of the OUR GANG kids) as Tracy's innocent son; and Alan Dinehart as a faithful friend. That's Rita Hayworth as the featured dancer aboard the S.S. Paradise.
There is no denying that Dante Alighieri is not only a major literary figure
of Italy's Renaissance, but one of the world's greatest poets. Actually he
left many poems in his works, especially regarding the forbidden love of his
life Beatrice, but the poem most associated with him is a 33 canto poem
entitled INFERNO. Most people don't realize it is actually the first third
of a larger book of poetry called THE DIVINE COMEDY. Dante wrote three
sections of this book, in which he, a traveller, is escorted by the ghost of
the Latin poet Virgil through the nine levels of Hell, then into purgatory,
and finally into paradise. The conclusion of the poem is when Dante is able
to see the grandeur and beauty of God's love, which is the ultimate position
at the top of the universe's order. Although Purgatory and Paradise have
moments of exceptional power in them, they are less exciting than the human
tragedies that make up the cantos of The INFERNO. What story about
redemption or love can compete with the hideous doom of Count Ugolino of
Pisa and his children, condemned to starve to death by a political enemy
(Ugolino had betrayed the enemy, once a friend of his). The punishment is
very gruesome - Ugolino is forever hungry for his crimes, and is gnawing at
the brain of his political foe forever as a result.
Nothing quite that gaudy here - The central figure (Tracy) begins as a stoker, but slowely rises in the world, frequently not realizing that his greed and drive have alienated friends and relatives. The source of his wealth is the carnival and gambling empire he has put together. In the course of building it he meets Henry Walthall, who wants to build a midway building that shows Dante's Inferno - Walthall believes it will be beneficial to the public as it will show the public the dangerous ice they are on if they continue to sin. Of course this is the screenwriter's take on Dante's Divine Comedy, and the Inferno in particular - actually Dante is far too clever a poet to have such a trivial motive in the actual work for writing it that way.
That Tracy is saved in the end is due to heeding the wisdom of his friend (later his father-in-law)and due to a sea tragedy - Tracy's latest addition to his empire is a gambling ship, which catches fire off the coast of the U.S., and requires Tracy's leadership qualities to save the passengers and crew. A suitable fiery conclusion to the film - and also an historic footnote: the boat is made to resemble the ill-fated Morro Castle, which burned in a fire in 1934 (the year before this film) off the coast of New Jersey, killing 130 passengers and crew. As such, this is the sole movie I know of that refers to that disaster, except for a line of dialogue in the contemporary satiric comedy BOY MEETS GIRL.
Dante's Inferno was Spencer Tracy's final film for Fox before settling
in at MGM where his career really took off. It was probably one of the
biggest budget films Fox had ever done up to that time with two
disasters and a dream sequence of hell.
Tracy plays a ship stoker and would be con man who gets fired off his ship for malingering. Down on his luck, kindly old Henry B. Walthall who owns a sideshow attraction at a carnival midway takes him in and Walthall's daughter Claire Trevor falls for him.
Spence is nothing if not determined to make something of himself and he becomes a rich man in the amusement game. But his ethics leave a lot to be desired.
The title is not Dante Alighieri's famous poetic saga of his journey through hell, but it's the name of the exhibit that Walthall owns. It's 'educational' but Tracy starts on his road to financial success by glamorizing the more prurient aspects of it.
The Inferno catches fire and there's a climatic ship's fire as well that Cecil B. DeMille could not have staged better. One wishes the film had been in color for that as well as the imaginary ten minute journey through hell that Walthall describes to Tracy.
The dancing team on the ship before the fire marks the screen debut of one Marguerite Carmen Cansino or better known as Rita Hayworth. She was quite the dancer on screen as well as in this person's opinion, the biggest sex symbol the screen ever knew.
Dante's Inferno was a fine film for Tracy to leave Fox with. But it would have astonished the executives at Fox if they could have imagined the career direction it would take at MGM.
For an early 1935 film,Dante's inferno is great.Spencer Tracy plays a con man who goes into the carnival business by reconstructing an attraction called Dante's inferno.its a morality tale with some great special effects for 1935,claire Trevor plays his love interest.look for Rita hayworth (billed Rita cansino)as a dancer in one of her early roles.its a good movie that still holds up today.Spencer Tracy was one of the great actors of the thirties thru the sixties.filmed in black and white.also in the movie is scotty Beckett who was one of the little rascals(aka:our gang)kids.a very good film and Rita hayworth does some awesome torrid dancing.I'm giving Dante's inferno 8 out of 10.
Made at the height of the Great Depression this film is really a shout
out to those unscrupulous money makers and a warning that eventually
they will pay. When confronted by his Wife about his dirty deeds the
Hero/Villain says..."I didn't do anything that any other businessman
wouldn't have done".
This is a stand alone film that is unique, off beat, wild and profound. A visual display of a catastrophe of material and man. It is a stunning piece of work that was rarely shown on television and ignored as a bastard child of the bijou. The middle inclusion of a horrific Hell with suffering half-naked souls and with haunting, chilling musical accompaniment is partly responsible.
There are three set pieces in this remarkable movie that are unforgettable and the story of greed and decadence is timeless. This is a one of a kind, disturbing adventure put together with excellent special effects, costumes, and sets. An underrated, overlooked antique piece of propagandized art that remains relevant. "things don't change, the behavior of men remains the same throughout history", says the old man. Amen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Dante's Inferno" (1935) is an excellent film, with many stunning
scenes. At the beginning of the film, the impoverished Jim Carter
(Spencer Tracy) ruthlessly pursues power and money. He joins a
carnival, and meets Pop McWade, the owner of Dante's Inferno show.
("Inferno" is an epic poem about Hell, written by Dante in the 14th
century.) McWade is a kind, thoughtful man, and hopes that his show
will help people stay out of Hell. His morality contrasts with Carter's
ruthless and shady business tactics.
Carter's callous strategies work, although others are often harmed. He eventually owns an extravagant carnival and amusement park, and a luxury Art Deco ship. The Dante's Inferno carnival show is a spectacular cavern with devils, fire and notorious beautiful women, including Salome and Cleopatra. The entrance to the cavern is a devil's head with glaring eyes and jagged teeth.
Carter's business practices are deplorable. However, he is a devoted family man. He marries McWade's beautiful blonde niece Betty, and loves their son.
Eventually, a large-scale disaster occurs at the carnival. Dante's Inferno caves in, and chaos ensues.
At one point, Carter has a dream of Hell. The surrealistic dream sequence of Hell is visually powerful and macabre, and is inspired by the engravings of Gustave Dore. There are hundreds of long haired sinners who live in a Hell of fire and smoke. Some struggle under stone slabs. Others wear long chains. Some sinners become half-human trees with gnarled twigs for hands.
The remainder of the film takes place on Carter's luxury Art Deco ship. The ship has a casino, and wild parties are shown through the portholes. The scenes of the epic disaster on the ship are stunning.
Director Harry Lachman was a production manager on the silent film "The Magician" (1926), which also has a surrealistic dream of Hell. The dream of Hell in the 1926 film influenced the Hell sequence in "Dante's Inferno" (1935).
This is an excellent, rare film, and it deserves to be preserved on DVD.
Dante's Inferno (1935)
*** (out of 4)
Impressive drama about a con man (Spencer Tracy) who gets a job at a carnival when an elderly man (Henry B. Walthall) hires him as a barker. The two men create the "Dante's Inferno" show, which Walthall uses to warn people but Tracy sees it as a way to get rich. Soon he will stop at nothing for the all mighty dollar but this will soon backfire when his wife (Claire Trevor) has to betray her own morals for him. There are a few faults in the film but overall this is a pretty strong little gem that contains three great sequences that make it a must see. The first one is the carnival attraction that has some rather amazing sets and terrific visuals. Another brilliant scene is the ending with a large ship catching fire. The third masterful touch is a famous sequence of Hell where we get to see thousands of people burning for eternity. All three of these scenes contain some thrilling entertainment and especially the sequence in Hell. I was really surprised to see how graphic some of these scenes where considering the Hayes Office was coming down on this type of thing. I also could have sworn there were a couple nude shots during this sequence but it was somewhat hard to tell. Another reason to watch this film are for the performances with Tracy delivering once again. The most impressive thing is that Tracy is so good at playing cold that you can't help but fall for everything he does in the film. He gets to show off a nicer side as well and he perfectly blends the two depending on the scene in question. Trevor is also in fine form as his wife and she gets some pretty good moments early on as her good ways must be thrown out the window in order to save her husband. Walthall turns in one of the best performances I've seen from him in the sound era and he actually steals the film from everyone. He's tour of Dante's Inferno is very good as is another sequence where he first meets Tracy's character. Rita Hayworth shows up at the end as a dancer so keep your eyes open for her. The film's major fault is that it gets too preachy at times and I think it goes a tad bit over the top in regards to some of the deeds that Tracy does. I think the film could have done without Hayworth's dance sequence as well as it really feels out of place with the rest of the film. And if you're keeping track with how many A-list Hollywood stars who appeared in blackface at some point in their career then you can add Tracy.
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