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    Inferno's Heat

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    After her femme-fatale cred was clearly established via her duplicitous dames in Out of the Past (1947) and Cry Danger (1951) and her striking redheaded beauty marked her as a Technicolor natural in resplendent period pieces (1949’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) and steamy, brawny adventures (1953’s Tropic Zone and Pony Express), Rhonda Fleming, who celebrates her 94th birthday today, emerged in the 3D “sun-baked noir” thriller Inferno (1953) as deliciously prime casting. While out riding in the Mojave Desert to inspect a remote mining location with his wife (Fleming) and lead engineer (William Lundigan), a callous millionaire playboy (Robert Ryan) falls off his mount and breaks his leg. Promised that spouse and business partner will find and bring help, he’s left behind with minimal provisions, but it’s quickly established that the wife and associate are lovers – and that the cold-hearted tycoon is being abandoned to die. “It’s not like…killing him, exactly,” Fleming haltingly utters. “It’s killing him, all right,” Lundigan bluntly responds. What follows in Inferno, tautly unfolding over 80 subsequent minutes under the tightly focused direction of Roy Ward Baker (who’d already steered striking leading ladies Marilyn Monroe and Linda Darnell through the nourish twists of Don’t Bother to Knock and Night Without Sleep), largely concerns the physically punishing and soul-purging struggle of the driven Ryan to survive an unforgiving landscape, and Ryan would later say that this arrogant-man-bucking-the-elements role was one of his favorites. But the film is also juiced but the subtly fraying relationship of the two calculating lovers, whose supposedly well-honed plans to cover their tracks and misdirect authorities begin to crack when confronted with their intended victim’s resolve. You can see it in the bewitching face and aqua-colored eyes of Fleming, alight with a coolly sexual passion one minute, then clouded by conscience the next when she starts to doubt the wisdom of the scheme – and the reliability of her predatory swain. It’s no wonder that among the most-remarked 3D highlights of this beautifully shot (by Lucien Ballard) white-knuckler, which include hurtling rockslides, a tossed lantern, collapsing flaming ceiling timbers and a striking rattlesnake, is the sight of the bathing suit-clad, vibrant redhead Fleming against the bright blue water of a motel swimming pool, alluring as all get-out while feigning concern for her missing husband, as impactful here as any black-and-white noir image. Fleming’s next two pictures – Those Redheads from Seattle (1953) and Jivaro (1954) – were also shot in Technicolor and 3D, but she would prove more potent than any passing filmmaking fad, as evidenced by the fine work ahead for her in thrillers (1956’s Slightly Scarlet and While the City Sleeps, 1960’s The Crowded Sky), Westerns (1955’s Tennessee’s Partner, 1957’s Gunfight at the OK Corral) and stark dramas (1958’s Home Before Dark). That’s due to the fact that to even the occasional black-and-white movie, Fleming would bring a singularly dynamic color. Experience this nonagenarian treasure, who’s also been a celebrated songstress/musical theater performer and a charitable crusader for women’s cancer treatment, at her formidable best in Inferno on a scorching 3D (2D-compatible) Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.