Dante's Inferno (1935)

88 or 90 mins | Drama | 23 August 1935

Director:

Harry Lachman

Producer:

Sol M. Wurtzel

Cinematographer:

Rudolph Maté

Production Designers:

Duncan Cramer, David Hall

Production Company:

Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

This film includes some scenes that were based on the poem Inferno by Dante Alighieri, part of his Divina commedia , which was begun ca. 1307. In the first outline for the film, included in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, writers Philip Klein and Rose Franken stated their intent in using the poem: "In bringing a version of Dante's Inferno to the screen, we wish to apply its symbology -- as the Bible is symbolic -- to the everyday life of the present age. As Dante revealed the journey of the soul in its development, so we will attempt to follow the progression of those who encounter today the fundamental experiences of life and death." A treatment in the Produced Scripts Collection dated 15 Oct 1934 indicates that the cruise ship fire sequence was suggested by the recent fire on the steamship, the S.S. Morro Castle , off the New Jersey coast on 8 Sep 1934, which claimed 133 lives.
       According to a NYT article, some 14,000 persons worked on the film, including 4,950 technicians, architects, artists, carpenters, stone masons and laborers, 250 electricians and 3,000 extras in the "Inferno" scene, and 300,000 feet of film was shot. HR noted that the film was delayed because of "the necessity of manufacturing several thousand small but vital articles of attire for devils, so that they may not shock the purity squad." Correspondence in the MPAA/PCA Collection of the AMPAS Library reveals that Joseph Breen, the director of the "purity squad," otherwise known as the Production Code Administration, suggested to producer Sol Wurtzel, in ... More Less

This film includes some scenes that were based on the poem Inferno by Dante Alighieri, part of his Divina commedia , which was begun ca. 1307. In the first outline for the film, included in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, writers Philip Klein and Rose Franken stated their intent in using the poem: "In bringing a version of Dante's Inferno to the screen, we wish to apply its symbology -- as the Bible is symbolic -- to the everyday life of the present age. As Dante revealed the journey of the soul in its development, so we will attempt to follow the progression of those who encounter today the fundamental experiences of life and death." A treatment in the Produced Scripts Collection dated 15 Oct 1934 indicates that the cruise ship fire sequence was suggested by the recent fire on the steamship, the S.S. Morro Castle , off the New Jersey coast on 8 Sep 1934, which claimed 133 lives.
       According to a NYT article, some 14,000 persons worked on the film, including 4,950 technicians, architects, artists, carpenters, stone masons and laborers, 250 electricians and 3,000 extras in the "Inferno" scene, and 300,000 feet of film was shot. HR noted that the film was delayed because of "the necessity of manufacturing several thousand small but vital articles of attire for devils, so that they may not shock the purity squad." Correspondence in the MPAA/PCA Collection of the AMPAS Library reveals that Joseph Breen, the director of the "purity squad," otherwise known as the Production Code Administration, suggested to producer Sol Wurtzel, in Mar 1935 after preliminary shooting was completed, that additional scenes be shot for the ending to show that "Jim" is repentant and that he should confess that "Pop" and his wife were right and that he was wrong, and that he should appeal to his wife to take him back again. The final film does include these scenes.
       After the studio showing of the film on 16 Apr 1935, Spencer Tracy agreed to have his name eliminated from advertising and publicity regarding the film and from the opening screen credits. His name does appear with other cast members in the end credits. Although Tracy acted in one Fox film following this, It's a Small World (see below), Dante's Inferno was his last released film for the company. According to modern sources, Tracy later said about this film that it was "one of the worst pictures ever made anywhere, anytime."
       According to a Mar 1935 NYT article, Rita Cansino, who later changed her name to Rita Hayworth, danced at the Mexican night spot Agua Caliente to attract attention so that she could launch a film career. FD reported that she was "discovered" by Fox officials there, and after the filming of her scenes for this film, she was signed to a seven-year contract. Her contract for Dante's Inferno is signed "Margarita Cansino." Under the Pampas Moon (see below) and Charlie Chan in Egypt (see above), in which she appeared, were shot subsequent to Dante's Inferno , although they were released before it. Modern sources note that Cansino, in reality, danced on a gambling ship off Long Beach, as she does in her scene in the film, that the Fox official who saw her at Agua Caliente was Winfield R. Sheehan, that her father, Spanish dancer Eduardo Cansino, who was also her dancing partner at Agua Caliente, choreographed her dance in the film, that her dancing partner, Gary Leon, broke his ankle during shooting and that she appeared in a couple of uncredited bit roles before Dante's Inferno .
       Var greatly praised the "Inferno" scenes, commenting that audiences "are not likely to see a better example of photographic and set-building technique in a season of pictures than in these 10 minutes. At its conclusion it brought a burst of applause at the Rivoli, although the audience seemed to issue a sigh of relief when the inferno dissolved back to the story once more. Likelihood is that reaction in general to the magnificent screen spectacle will be one of fatigue as well as enthrallment." According to modern sources, Ben Carré, although not given screen credit, designed much of the "Inferno" sequence. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also at UCLA, technical advisor Hubert Stowitts agreed that his name would not be included in the screen credits, because the inferno sequence "is not to include any choreography." The legal records note that two enlargements of illustrations by Gustave Doré from an edition of the Inferno published in 1861, were used in the set, along with the painting "Salome," by Georg Papperitz, "Pollice Verso," by Jean Léon Gérôme, "Cleopatra," by Alexandre Cabanel, and "Alexander Cutting the Gordian Knot," by Castaigne, but that they had been altered "so as to get as far away from a reproduction of the original as possible."
       Modern sources give the following additional credits: Makeup supv Ern Westmore; Chief sd eng E. H. Hansen ; Cast Yakima Canutt, Ray Corrigan, Angelo Rossitto, Paul McVey and Cliff Lyons. Other films based on Dante's poem include a 1909 Italian film entitled Inferno and a 1924 Fox film, entitled Dante's Inferno , directed by Henry Otto and starring Lawson Butt, Howard Gaye and Ralph Lewis. Some modern sources state that some scenes of the "Inferno" from the 1924 film were used in the 1935 film, but no contemporary information to verifiy this has been located. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
10 Aug 1935.
---
Daily Variety
3 Dec 34
p. 3.
Daily Variety
1 Aug 35
p. 3.
Film Daily
9 Feb 35
p. 3.
Film Daily
1 Aug 35
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Nov 34
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 34
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 35
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Aug 35
p. 4.
Motion Picture Daily
31 Jul 35
p. 12.
Motion Picture Herald
2 Mar 35
p. 50.
Motion Picture Herald
10 Aug 35
p. 53.
MPSI
1 Apr 35
p. 19.
New York Times
24 Mar 1935.
---
New York Times
28 Jul 1935.
---
New York Times
1 Aug 35
p. 15.
New York Times
3 Dec 1939.
---
Variety
7 Aug 35
p. 21.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Rita Cansino
Ronald Rondell
Leona Lane
Charles C. Wilson
Antoinette Lees
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dial dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Contr to scr constr and dial
Contr to scr constr and dial
Contr to trmt
Contr to trmt
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
DANCE
Dances staged by
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Tech staff
Tech staff
Powder man
DETAILS
Release Date:
23 August 1935
Production Date:
3 December 1934--late January 1935
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
23 August 1935
Copyright Number:
LP5781
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
88 or 90
Length(in feet):
8,000
Length(in reels):
11
Country:
United States
PCA No:
683
SYNOPSIS

Jim Carter, a stoker on a luxury liner, loses his job after he reveals that he has faked a broken arm, and he vows to those wealthy people looking down on him in the stoke hole and laughing that someday he will be where they are. After Jim fails to last as a target in blackface at a sideshow for baseball pitches in a carnival, Pop McWade, owner of the carnival show "Dante's Inferno," offers him a job cleaning up the place. The show includes statues of Cleopatra, Dante, Salome, Virgil, Marc Antony and Alexander the Great, after whom Jim fancies himself. Pop has idealistically devised the show to present to customers a "glimpse of hell" with metaphoric suggestions on how to get out, but it does not attract many customers until Jim tries the role of barker and by playing up the sensational aspects produces a sellout, to the delight of Pop and his niece Betty, who sells tickets. Jim soon marries Betty and plans to build a new show, which he describes as the biggest "hell on earth." After a son Alex, called Sonny, is born, Jim convinces the other concessionaires to invest in a larger "Inferno," but when Dean, the "chute-the-chutes" owner, refuses to give up his prime location for the new concern, Jim purchases Dean's lease and proceeds to ruthlessly wreck Dean's concession, despite Dean's pleas for him to wait one month so that he could raise enough money to move. At the opening of the new spectacular inferno, Pop, dressed as Virgil, guides patrons through Dante's nine cycles, but he is interrupted when Dean, whose wife died that ... +


Jim Carter, a stoker on a luxury liner, loses his job after he reveals that he has faked a broken arm, and he vows to those wealthy people looking down on him in the stoke hole and laughing that someday he will be where they are. After Jim fails to last as a target in blackface at a sideshow for baseball pitches in a carnival, Pop McWade, owner of the carnival show "Dante's Inferno," offers him a job cleaning up the place. The show includes statues of Cleopatra, Dante, Salome, Virgil, Marc Antony and Alexander the Great, after whom Jim fancies himself. Pop has idealistically devised the show to present to customers a "glimpse of hell" with metaphoric suggestions on how to get out, but it does not attract many customers until Jim tries the role of barker and by playing up the sensational aspects produces a sellout, to the delight of Pop and his niece Betty, who sells tickets. Jim soon marries Betty and plans to build a new show, which he describes as the biggest "hell on earth." After a son Alex, called Sonny, is born, Jim convinces the other concessionaires to invest in a larger "Inferno," but when Dean, the "chute-the-chutes" owner, refuses to give up his prime location for the new concern, Jim purchases Dean's lease and proceeds to ruthlessly wreck Dean's concession, despite Dean's pleas for him to wait one month so that he could raise enough money to move. At the opening of the new spectacular inferno, Pop, dressed as Virgil, guides patrons through Dante's nine cycles, but he is interrupted when Dean, whose wife died that day, jumps to his death. Soon, Jim expands his empire and plans an extravagant casino on the high seas to cater to the pleasures of the rich. Upset because Jim's casino will promote gambling and vice, Pop tells Jim that they are drifting apart. After Harris, a building inspector, tells Jim that the Inferno is unsafe and needs to be rebuilt, Jim threatens to see that Harris loses his job if he insists on his opinion. Betty then sees Harris accept an envelope of money. At the Inferno, a cave-in occurs, and Jim rescues Pop. Jim remains watching over Pop through two sleepless nights as Pop recovers. After Harris commits suicide and leaves a written confession detailing Jim's bribe, Jim is prosecuted. His denial that Harris came to his home is backed by Betty, who, after Jim is acquitted, explains that she lied to save Sonny and plans to leave for Reno for a divorce. As Jim's cruise ship, the S.S. Paradise , prepares to leave, he has trouble raising money and has to cut into his profits by using the ship as security. When the crew strikes, Jim orders a new crew to be hired from the out-of-work men by the docks, whether they are dependable or not. After the ship leaves, Betty discovers that Sonny is lost and sends a wire to Jim saying that kidnapping is feared. He receives the radiogram in the midst of bacchanalian drinking, dancing and gambling and rushes to his cabin, where he finds Sonny, who had been brought by Jim's assistant Jonesy as a surprise. Jim angrily rebukes Jonesy, saying that the ship is the last place in the world for the child to be. After he sends a message to Betty, a fire breaks out when a drunk throws liquor at a flaming meal. The incompetent men in the engine room do not respond when called, and the passengers panic, some falling into the sea, others shooting each other so that they can get into lifeboats. After Jim rescues the captain, they attempt to keep the fire from sweeping aft while they steer the ship to the beach two miles away. Jim fights rebellious crew members and handles the controls himself. The circulatory pump stops and a water pipe bursts, but Jim succeeds in turning the ship and beaching it. Meanwhile, Betty races in a car to the ship. Sonny is safe and Jim, bandaged but okay, confesses, as he embraces Betty, that Pop was right: his "hell" was of his own making. He apologizes and says that all he now has to offer is his love, and Betty replies that that is all she ever wanted. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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