This label often works up a sweat for combustible movie classics like the sweltering, seasonally appropriate The Long Hot, Summer (1958) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) now available, and such other items as The Hot Rock (1972) and Rapid Fire (1992) coming down the chute in two weeks. For total immersion into a silver screen heat wave, there’s another item sure to seduce and scald: the 3-D Technicolor action thriller Inferno (1953), which premiered theatrically 65 years ago this weekend, starring the terrific trio of Robert Ryan, William Lundigan and a gorgeous cinematic femme fatale who celebrates her 95th birthday today, Rhonda Fleming.
The compact (84 minutes) tale of a callous billionaire (Ryan) injured and left to die in the sun-baked Mojave Desert wilderness by his unfaithful wife (Fleming) and her calculating lover (Lundigan), it was directed to a tensely wound fare-thee-well by Roy (Ward) Baker (who also guided Marilyn Monroe through the psychologically twisted machinations of the previous year’s Don’t Bother to Knock, another Twilight Time title), with masterful cinematographer (and future five-time Sam Peckinpah collaborator) Lucien Ballard incomparably capturing the beauty and barrenness of the unforgiving natural landscape. (His savvy camera-eye gifts can also be glimpsed in TT’s Hour of the Gun (1967, also co-starring Ryan), The Hawaiians (1970) and From Noon till Three (1976)). Twentieth Century Fox’s first foray into 3-D met with appreciation from The New York Times’ Howard Thompson: “As fragmentary realism the picture rings true and persuasive. Mr. Ryan’s portrayal of the gritty, determined protagonist is, of course, a natural. Miss Fleming, one of Hollywood’s coolest, prettiest villainesses, knows how to handle literate dialogue, which she shares. And Mr. Lundigan, on his initial detour, to our knowledge, from the paths of righteousness, can jolly well stay there. Director Roy Baker’s muted staging, always camera-wise, is deceptively simple when considering such incidents as a rattlesnake encounter or some random, minor avalanches. The climactic fight between the two men is a pip. But since Mr. Baker obviously cares more for substance than shenanigans, the horse, for the first time in 3-D feature history, is allowed to supersede the cart. While it still has far to go, in this tentative but sensible undertaking 3-D comes of age.” Significantly, Ryan would later refer to his Inferno work as among his best. Birthday honoree Fleming also took pride in her efforts, if her invocation to the audience in this early teaser trailer [watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty-VV6uT2bY] is any indication. Marking the film’s 65th anniversary, Inferno will be shown tomorrow, Saturday August 11, on the sizable screen of the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on a double bill with another one-time TT title, the now sold-out Man in the Dark (also 1953). [Information here: http://www.americancinemathequecalendar.com/content/man-in-the-dark-inferno-0]. Of course, TT’s Inferno hi-def Blu-ray at home will raise the temperature just as well.