As Hollywood went into the “television panic” of the early 1950s, every studio was trying to come up with ways to lure audiences away from free visuals and back into their paying ticket arms. The first of these efforts was the brief 3-D craze, where they began to—visually & literally—throw everything they could at the audience. During this time, studios also began thinking of ways to make the screen wider. Over at 20th Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck was convinced their nascent CinemaScope process was the future—not 3D.
3D required an abundance of variables for it to work—most importantly, two projectors that had to remain absolutely in sync —whereas CinemaScope just required a new screen and a change of lens. Though CinemaScope was a priority and not an insured success, Fox decided to hedge their bets and put a 3D film into production. The result was 1953’s Inferno—the only 3D film Fox would produce during this initial craze.
Inferno is a great film that feels like a Noir-tinged episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It’s the story of a millionaire, left stranded to die in the desert by his wife and her lover, perfectly cast with tough guy Robert Ryan, “Queen of Technicolor” Rhonda Fleming as his wife, and William Lundigan as her lover. Henry Hull, Larry Keating, Robert Burton, and future Donna Reed TV husband Carl Betz round out the cast.
Ryan’s millionaire begins his ordeal bitter and angry, on the borderline of giving up. Then, obsessing over a revenge fantasy, he’s inspired to begin a journey of survival, to get out of the desert, and to his wife and her lover to pay for what they’ve done. Spite is a hell of a motivator. Ryan is great in the lead role, and most impressively, spends the majority of the film reacting to his own internal monologue.
Inferno is a solidly well-paced film, and at a tight and lean 84 minutes, it never overstays its welcome. There is one intermission believe it or not, which was a necessity of 3D films of the era, as time was needed in the projection booth to change the oversized reels.
Twilight Time brings Inferno to blu-ray in its original 3D exhibition, and the results are vibrantly sharp, using a color pallet that shines throughout. There is occasional print damage, but nothing too distracting.
Extras are ported over from a previous DVD release that include a short doc about the making of the film, the original trailer, and audio commentary with Ryan’s daughter Lisa and film historian Allan K. Rode.
It’s a solid blu-ray of one of the better films from Hollywood’s first 3D wave. I found myself widely entertained, as it’s the perfect lazy Sunday type of escapism. If you’re a fan of Hitchcock-like suspense or Robert Ryan, you owe it to yourself to pick up Inferno before it’s limited 3,000 copies sell out.