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.
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.
"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.
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.
Dante's Inferno is directed by Harry Lachman, has a screenplay by Philip Klein and Robert Yost and stars Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor and Henry B. Walthall.
Jim Carter(Spencer Tracy)is a man who starts off as an employee at a carnival, he goes on to become a wealthy business owner. He marries Betty(Claire Trevor)and doesn't realise until much later just how important she is to him, it takes great tragedy for him to realise the wealthy life he created for himself is not what life is all about after all. After an attraction he owns becomes unsafe and causes an accident he sets up a casino on a ship, that ship is sadly doomed too.
The most memorable scene in the film is where we see a vision of Hell. This is one of the most stunning and chilling sequences ever to be seen in a film. It's truly terrifying and visually stunning.
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.
"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.
... since according to Robert Osborne's intro on TCM last night he asked that his name be removed from all advertising and intro credits. All pre-Zanuck Fox films have a rustic quality to them, the reason being that Fox catered to rural audiences and so their warnings of the sins of big city life and straying from the teachings of "the good book" were never subtle, and this movie is no exception. So if this one at first comes across like DeMille meets Indiana, cut it some slack.
Tracy plays con-man Jim Carter, who stokes coal to earn his way home where ultimately the only job he can get is being the target in a carnival game. He loses that job like he loses so many, and in the aftermath meets the reverend-like Pop McWade (Henry B. Walthall). Pop gives Jim a job and says "it is better to give than receive", but Jim has a point when he realizes you need to have something first if you want to give anything away. And that's a problem for Pop, because his low-key sermon like deliveries when advertising his carnival attraction themed after "Dante's Inferno" are not getting many takers. Thus Jim jazzes up the carnival barking and pop's revenues increase. Jim falls for Pop's daughter, Betty (Claire Trevor), and the two are married and have a son.
All is calm on the domestic front, but apparently Pop might as well be talking to himself when it comes to Jim's business morals. Jim ultimately builds an entertainment empire by driving people out of business, by threatening building inspectors and bribing them, and there is more than one suicide caused by his ruthless ways, yet he never repents - that is, until his high seas gambling ship catches fire with his small son aboard.
The one sin Jim never commits is disloyalty to either his wife or father in law. Pop is too good to be true in how he repeatedly forgives and patiently waits for Jim to have an epiphany, and his wife is just plain blind to the truth - for awhile anyways.
If Pop's talk of hell isn't enough to get the viewer's attention, there is actually what some call a "dream sequence" of hell in the middle of the film as Pop goes through Dante's Inferno and describes hell to Jim via a sequence that is supposedly from a silent film Fox had made ten years before. It's a long scene of innumerable people suffering in hell and, strangely enough since this was made after the production code took effect, there is quite a bit of nudity shown.
Watch this one for its odd plot, for some pretty good action scenes, its strange dance of the condemned in the "hell sequence" and for a 16 year old Rita Hayworth seventh billed in the ending credits as Rita Cansino in a spectacular Latin dance. She sets the screen on fire - almost literally. The one bad thing I could say was that there was no perceivable chemistry between Tracy and Claire Trevor. I like both performers, and normally Tracy sparkled with almost all of his leading ladies, but here it's like they're practically reading their lines to each other. I just don't feel it. It's one of the few times you'll actually catch Spencer Tracy acting - which is one thing he said an actor should never let the audience do.
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.
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.
Guess I'll be on my best behavior from now on. If those fiery visions of Hell can intimidate an old heathen like me, think what they'd do at a Pat Robertson film festival. Still and all, those shapely babes doing a nude swan dive into liquid fire (beware sinners!) almost makes me believe misbehavior might be worth it. On the other hand, the many grotesques are enough to scare Beelzebub himself. I don't know how much the studio ponied up for the big scenes, but they're really well done with a cast of thousands amid roaring infernos.
The movie's basically a morality tale, showing one man's (Tracy) ruthless climb from bottom to top and learning his lesson after all. I really like the way Carter ingratiates himself socially into the upper class; just having big bucks is not enough. So he uses is well-honed entrepreneurial skills to grease the wheels. And, thanks reviewer Albertsanders for detailing how the story's basis lies in actual fact, surprising as that may seem.
My only complaint is the miracle ending. It sure doesn't comport with the events aboard ship. My guess is that it was a gesture to the newly formed Production Code. Or maybe it was just pandering to what the studio thinks audiences want. Either way, it undercuts a good story and maybe the best special effects of the time.
Spencer Tracy ruthlessly works his way up from carnival barker to owner to mogul, not caring who he hurts along the way. Excellent drama with some really nice set pieces and memorable scenes. Tracy, as always, is solid. Claire Trevor is good. Fine actor Henry B. Walthall steals every scene he's in. Scotty Beckett is adorable as Tracy's son. A young Rita Hayworth has a dancing scene but no lines. Excellent direction from Harry Lachman. Great sets and effects. Among the highlights are a shocking suicide, the much-praised "hell" sequence, and a thrilling shipboard fire climax. It's an evocative film that certainly stands as one of Spencer Tracy's best and most underrated films from the 1930s.
Besides the famous and spectacular dream sequence of poet Dante's version of hell, this movie also features an equally tremendous disaster sequence at the end of the film when a luxury liner catches on fire. You might say all "hell" breaks loose on board. Spencer Tracy strongly disavowed his work on this movie, but in actuality, it's one of his better roles in the 1930s. Tracy plays a carnival barker who works his way up the ladder of success until he's the head of several lucrative enterprises. His first claim to fame is the establishment of "Dante's Inferno" as the leading attraction at an eastern city (most likely NYC) amusement park. There he meets his future wife (Claire Trevor) and her uncle (Henry Walthall) who is the attraction's proprietor and main creative force. Tracy soon builds up Walthall's modest carnival concession into something out of this world and it becomes the hit of the boardwalk. It also becomes an unsafe structure that causes death and destruction. The movie follows Tracy's rise and fall in the business world and he pretty much ends up exactly where he came from: at the bottom. Luckily for him, Ms. Trevor is never far away to give him the love and encouragement that he really doesn't deserve. Old Walthall does his best to give Tracy some much needed advice about the wages of sin and immorality, but it falls on deaf ears. Tracy ends up in his own private hell, but he's given an unnecessary reprieve in the final reel along with a hokey ending. This is one of those films that could stand a good remake and an updating to the modern era. Dante's version of hell might be something that could attract some present-day director into developing his own interpretation.
Today "Dante's Inferno" is seventy years old, and it was interesting to view the film uninterrupted on the Fox Movie Channel. Spencer Tracy's 28th of a whopping 78 film credits, and the young Rita Casino featured in a prominent dance sequence (before her last name became Hayworth) are points of particular interest here.
This is no routine melodrama: Director Harry Lachman, his writers and actors were into its moral message with dead earnestness. On display is Tracy giving it his all, along with impressive work from Claire Trevor and Alan Dinehart.
However, the basic crux of the tale, given the takeoff of Dante Alighieri was tough to take, as I personally don't believe in that poet's vision of either the underworld or its upper realmed counterpart. Too, the lengthy segment based on Gustav Dore's ridiculous lithographs were as meaningless and skewed as Michalangelo's and other Renaissance artists' graphic interpretations (all of which are traditionally designed to keep people spiritually restive, therefore controllable.)
Thus this enactment from a mythological perspective is pre-school mentality. From a pragmatic perspective, it has some cause and affect validity, in which blind ambition is felled by experienced tragedy.
Tracy's work is most effective, as he executes a flawed yet well-meaning character. Trevor beautifully supports him, rising to the challenge of a courtroom cross-examination in which she conflictingly supports her husband's business indiscretions.
Director Lachman keeps his film moving forward, while steering the entire production crew with a sure hand. For a film with its vintage, "Dante's Inferno" impressively holds its own.
As I was reading the new biography on Spencer Tracy -- which incidentally is the definitive one to be produced -- the section about this film (filmed when he was transitioning from 20th Century Fox to MGM) was quite negative, so I expected a real lemon. At first I could only find it on You Tube, divided up into several sections, but complete (and a surprisingly good print). In October 2012, it became available on TCM with, again, an excellent print. And now it is out on DVD!
What a surprise, I think it's a terrific movie, particularly for 1935, and I would have to say that it's Tracy's best film in the pre-MGM period. Tracy's acting here is very smooth and convincing as a man who becomes a carnival barker (you actually get to see him in black face!), but then promotes an attraction based on Dante's "Inferno". It begins innocently enough, but greed leads to Tracy's character's downfall. Ever more impressive side-show/pier entertainments, slipshod construction with no regard to safety, gambling, and bribery all figure into this morality play. And then, the pier collapses, killing and injuring scores of people. Tracy's father-in-law, a follower of Dante's literature, then shows Tracy what hell is going to be like, and for 1935, I found the sets to be extremely eerie and impressive...the images you see are far beyond anything I would expect from that era (not to mention scenes of near nudity), particularly from the rather poor Fox studio (shortly before merging with 20th Century Studios).
But, justice must be served, and soon, with his son aboard his own ship, Tracy again cuts corners, endangering many more people when a fire breaks out on board. Tracy manages to save the ship...and his son...but in the mean time, scenes abroad the ship mimic the hell of Dante's "Inferno".
What I feel makes this film so interesting is that it's something really different. I can't think of another film that was this original and clever. If there is one criticism I have of this film, it is that there is a relatively happy ending, when, frankly, one was not appropriate.
I found the cast here to be very interesting. Spencer Tracy is one of my two favorite actors (the other being Cary Grant). And I think he was surprisingly good, considering this was before his MGM years. Frankly, I didn't recognize Claire Trevor, but she was perfect here as Tracy's wife. And it was interesting to see Henry Walthall, once a famous silent film star, and a leading actor in the granddaddy of all silent films -- "Birth Of A Nation". He is excellent here as the humble and moral "professor", and father of Trevor. Also worth mentioning is an excellent child performance -- Scotty Beckett -- as Tracy's small son. A fine young actor that, unfortunately, lived a spiraling life down in his early adult years.
It is great to see this excellent film back for viewing! Recommended, particularly for Tracy fans.
Here it is, 1935, and Spencer Tracey as the ruthless but not heartless entrepreneur gone wrong is already the Spencer Tracey of twenty years later, utterly believable as an ordinary guy. His style is perfectly natural. I was tempted to attribute his being so comfortable on screen with his previous stage experience but it can't be that. The early sound years were filled with Broadway actors with all kinds of fustian mannerisms, shouting their lines as if projecting to the balconies, overdoing their gestures for the sight-challenged, and pronouncing words like New York as "Nyew York," an affectation borrowed from a relatively recent development in the British regional dialect of a few hundred years ago.
Of course his range, like every other actor's, had its limits. I don't see him as King Lear. I don't see him as any king at all. But as a representation of everyman, he can hardly be beat. Even his face. That face. Lionel Barrymore shouldn't worry.
It's a familiar story. Tracey begins as a low-down stoker promoting bets on who can stoke coal the fastest. Thrown off the ship, he's befriended by a couple of people at a carnival, one of whom, Henry B. Walthall, who has a face that belongs on a monument, buys him a meal out of kindness and offers him a job as the run-down show place he owns. "Dante's Inferno" is just a path through different levels of hell, populated by statues in various stages of suffering. It's making no money but Walthall is satisfied because it gives him a chance to sell a moral message against sinning.
Tracey gets the place up and running. By shady means he acquires the whole amusement park and builds Dante's Inferno into its showcase. He's a rich man and has married Walthall's pretty niece, young Claire Trevor. They have a son and Tracey is as happy as a pig in gumbo.
But then Tracey has to go and smoothly bribe a reluctant building inspector and Dante's Inferno comes crashing down in a flurry of plaster and dust, almost killing Walthall. The bribed building inspector commits suicide. Tracey is prosecuted for bribery but he lies on the stand -- very convincingly too. Trevor volunteers to testify and she perjures herself too, just to save their young boy the pain of having a father in the slams. Then she leaves Tracey and takes the kid with her, which is just as well because he's one of those frightfully cute kids. All kids are like that. I think they're born suffering from a medical condition called neotenosis that only maturation can cause to remit.
Anyhow, Tracey bets big on an off-shore gambling ship. Alas, there is a strike and the ship's captain, under Tracey's orders, hires some really irresponsible gutter types who feel like joining the first night's festivities and start ingurgitating pilfered champagne. Well, the hoi polloi don't know how to deal with champagne so we know what happens next.
The ship's ballroom is bigger than my whole house by a factor of ten. The featured act is a dance by a lady called Rita Cansino and a partner, before her hair was electrolyzed or whatever it's called and she became Rita Hayworth. Among the stokers is Don Ameche.
One of the drunken guests sets the ship on fire and chaos ensues. It's quite exciting. The memory of the Morro Castle fire, a burning ship in which 134 people died only the year before, was probably still fresh. The Paradise, like the Morro Castle, is beached, saving many lives. In the case of the Paradise, it was due to Tracey's heroism. More important, he learns that true love and real rectitude are better than plain old money.
If the performances are uniformly good -- and they are -- the director has nothing to be ashamed of either. He manages the often corny dialog with aplomb. The camera tilts slightly during scenes of disaster. He uses overhead shots and makes judicious use of silhouettes and shadows. The special effects folks went ape, and there is a boring ten-minute speechless extravaganza of semi-nude bodies writhing in agony in Dante's hell. Tracey himself is at least spared the damned biting and itching insects who attack everyone else who pursues self interest in Dante's limbo.
Spencer 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.
This film features three giant set pieces that must have thrilled audiences in 1935. Two of them are large scale disasters, the first on the boardwalk pier and the second aboard a luxury liner. But the most memorable and eye popping of these set pieces is a lengthy dream sequence where Tracy descends into hell. We see mountains of tortured souls writhing naked in lava, masses of hooded demons marching into oblivion, the damned, suffering, screaming as they are tortured for all eternity. Even if you don't believe a hell exists, this is some visually powerful stuff.
Unfortunately, besides these memorable sequences the story is pretty routine. Poor man makes it big, destroys his soul in the process, and in the end repents to his loving wife (only after countless people are killed by his greed and carelessness. Twice.) At times it seems that the rest of the film was written around the amazing dream sequence. They needed a story to lead into that trip through the underworld, and what they came up with was pretty routine. But no matter, for the film features some amazing special effects for that era, some that could still impress today.
Spencer Tracy plays a scheming promoter who takes nothing and parlays it into a fortune--mostly because he manages to lie and use people to his own selfish ends. At the same time, they show Spencer as a devoted family man--an odd juxtaposition indeed! I am amazed when I read the other reviews. It sounds almost like I saw an entirely different film. Because of this and the very respectable score of 7.0, I guess I am definitely in the minority in seeing this as a second-rate film.
My problems with the film have little to do with the plot idea. According to one interesting review, apparently this is all based on a real-life man! No, my problems lie more in the execution, as I rarely have seen a trashier and more ridiculous film in my life.
The film begins by introducing us to the poor guy played by Spencer Tracy before he became a first-tier star. He plays the ultimate selfish heel--a lazy guy who'd rather cut corners and risk others lives than do the right thing. Repeatedly throughout the film, you'd think that Tracy would turn his life around and do the right thing, but this only happened in the very end. Up until then, it was years of selfish pursuit of money at the expense of others. Now I didn't dislike this aspect of his character--but just felt his redemption at the end was completely out of character and this hurt the film considerably. Many years later, Tracy made a similar film (EDWARD, MY SON) but it benefited from playing the heel up through the end--a much more realistic and less hokey film all the way.
Another serious problem with the film is that again and again and again, the most horrible tragedies occurred due to Tracy and yet people somehow emerged almost totally unhurt! My favorite part was when his amusement park attraction "Dante's Inferno" was a safety hazard and Tracy paid off the fire inspector instead of closing down the building. Only moments later, the entire huge attraction literally fell on top of his father-in-law and appeared to kill dozens--it was a very spectacular scene. Yet, oddly, despite tons of material falling directly on him, the in-law was just fine and there was no mention of any deaths or injuries!! Another instance was when the passenger ship at the end of the film caught fire. Hundreds should have died and the most surely doomed was Tracy himself. Yet, at the very end, he's apparently okay and everyone seems ready to live happily ever after!!! What about the victims and lawsuits?!
The final serious deficit of the film is the lengthy and rather interesting (but pointless) segment where you go on a trip to Hell. It's like a scene from Dante come to life and the film makers managed to film hundreds of naked extras and yet hide all their "naughty bits". The scene also was reminiscent of a Bosch or Dali painting and was amazing to watch....but also very, very, very preachy. Subtle this film was not. In fact, it's one of the least subtle films I have seen and it's chock full of sledgehammer symbolism and predictable plot devices.
Had they instead allowed Tracy to be true to his character, eliminated the overly preachy and sentimental aspects of the film and allowed SOME semblance of realism to pervade the film, it would have been much, much more watchable. Instead, it just came off as a very bizarre and ridiculous curio in Tracy's otherwise excellent film career.