Dante’s Inferno (1935)

DANTE’S INFERNO (1935)
Article #964 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-4-2003
Posting Date: 4-2-2004
Directed by Harry Lachman
Featuring Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor, Henry B. Walthall

A carnival worker uses his huckster skills to hit the big time, but his thoughtlessness causes tragedy in the lives of those around him.

Dante’s “Inferno” (the poem, not the movie) is the first of the three books that make up “The Divine Comedy”; it largely consists of Virgil giving Dante a tour of hell so he can see the various punishments doled out to evildoers from throughout history. Whatever its merits as a poem, it really doesn’t tell much in the way of a story, and consequently I didn’t really go into this movie expecting any sort of faithful translation of the poem, and I was right. DANTE’S INFERNO (the movie, not the poem) is basically a modern-day drama about a man who keeps cutting the Gordian knot (i.e. taking the moral shortcut) in order to make it to the top; since his first step is in promoting a carnival attraction illustrating moments in the Dante poem, the title does bear some relevance to the story. Amazingly enough, at least one part of the movie does end up in hell; a six-minute montage more than half-way through the movie gives the viewer a vision of hell, and it makes for the highlight of the movie and gives it its most special moment. This is a good thing, since despite the fact that it’s well acted all around and has high production values (particularly during the spectacular final twenty minutes of the movie), the story itself is fairly predictable. Nonetheless, horror fans may well want to tune in for the hell sequence; it really is quite amazing.

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