Dante’s Inferno (1935)

Dante’s Inferno (1935)

“Since the beginning of time there’s only been one sin and that’s failure. People don’t care how you win, so long as you win.”

An ambitious young man (Spencer Tracy) helps a carnival employee named Pop (Henry B. Walthall) turn his “Dante’s Inferno” show into a success; but his marriage to Pop’s daughter (Claire Trevor) and his general livelihood are threatened when he begins to cut corners on safety.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Claire Trevor Films
  • Corruption
  • Rise and Fall
  • Spencer Tracy Films

Dante’s Inferno is primarily remembered today for its stunning special effects and set designs — most notably during a ten-minute dream sequence in which the protagonist (Tracy) literally descends into Dante’s vision of Hell. Director Harry Lachman was trained as a painter himself, and purportedly based his images on Gustave Dore’s well-known engravings, to haunting effect. Visuals aside, however, the film tells a fairly standard tale of greed coming before the fall; Tracy is an appealing presence, but his foolhardy decision to bribe a safety officer is beyond reproach, and he deserves his penance. Watch for young Rita Hayworth (billed as Rita Cansino) in a tiny dancing role.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Spencer Tracy as Jim Carter
  • Claire Trevor as Jim’s long-suffering wife
  • The haunting “Dante’s Inferno” sequence

Must See?
No, but it’s worth viewing once.


One thought on “Dante’s Inferno (1935)

  1. A once-must – mainly for reasons brought out in the assessment; this is a unique, somewhat-underrated classic.

    I hadn’t seen this morality tale that cautions rather convincingly: “By our own actions and thoughts toward our fellow man, we make our own Heaven or Hell here on Earth.” Even tho it strains credulity a bit for the sake of DeMille-like spectacle, the film makes its point well.

    Lachman obviously had a real eye for the vision displayed – one could watch this for the production design alone and be impressed. But the director also gets fine performances out of his cast (even the child actor isn’t cloying; and I like Alan Dinehart in his small, best friend role of Jonesy – a Walter Matthau kind of part, and Dinehart even looks something like WM). Trevor is quite believable and lovely as a wife very much in love with a man who nevertheless only shows and tells her what he wants to. (She is especially good during and just after the courtroom trial sequence.)

    As Carter, Tracy brings to mind Tyrone Power in ‘Nightmare Alley’ (a personal fave, and also with a carnival background). Like Power’s character, Carter is a man with almost nothing to his name who claws upward to an elite level…with the ‘help’ of greed, determination and hubris.

    (Hayworth does indeed look quite young and somewhat unrecognizable when dancing with her partner. But just watch for her signature smile.)

    [‘DI’ is not at all easy to find, but is currently on YouTube, a rather crisp print in 7 clips.]

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