Inferno (1953 film)

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Inferno (1953 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Produced by William Bloom
Screenplay by Francis Cockrell
Starring Robert Ryan
Rhonda Fleming
William Lundigan
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography Lucien Ballard
Edited by Robert L. Simpson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 12, 1953 (1953-08-12) (United States)
Running time
83 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,055,000[1]

Inferno is a 1953 American film noir drama/thriller starring Robert Ryan, William Lundigan and Rhonda Fleming, directed by Roy Ward Baker. It was shot in Technicolor and shown in 3-D Dimension and stereophonic sound on prints for the few theaters equipped for that sound system in 1953.[2]


During a trip to the Mojave Desert, millionaire Donald Carson III, having broken his leg falling off his horse, has been abandoned and left to die by his adulterous wife Geraldine and mining engineer Joe Duncan, a man she's known for just a few days. "Gerry" and Joe leave the injured man a blanket, a canteen and a gun before driving off, supposedly to seek medical aid. As the hours go by and Carson realizes the truth of his predicament, he vows to live long enough to exact revenge against his wife and her accomplice.

Carson is reported missing to police lieutenant Mike Platt and to Dave Emory, who is Carson's lawyer and business manager. Gerry does not mention the broken leg and claims her husband wandered off. Emory then states that he is not too concerned yet because Carson is a temperamental alcoholic who has acted irresponsibly at times in the past.

The lovers fly to Carson's mansion in Los Angeles knowing that Carson is at least 60 miles from where they told the police to look. They expect him to succumb to the desert heat or to shoot himself with the gun. Far more resourceful than they anticipated, Carson manages to make a splint, then crawl his way to an abandoned mine, where he uses timber for a makeshift crutch. He finds sustenance from the meat of a cactus and attempts in vain to shoot a rabbit with the gun. He later succeeds in shooting a deer, butchering it, and hanging the meat to dry, assuring his survival.

When it rains, after Carson has been gone a week, Gerry and Joe are relieved because it has permanently covered any tracks they left. Carson is presumed dead by the law. Joe flies a plane over the region, just in case, and spots a fire Carson has made. Knowing now that he is alive, Joe drives back into the desert to finish off Carson once and for all.

Gerry waits in the car while Joe stalks his prey. Just as he catches up with Carson and aims his pistol at him, Joe is startled by the sight of Carson being found by an old prospector driving a jalopy. Returning to his own car, Joe discovers that Gerry has run it into a large rock, which ruptured the vehicle's oil pan. The damage now makes it impossible for them to drive out of the desert. Joe suddenly realizes that her real intention was to leave him when she moved the car. Joe angrily walks away, and leaves Gerry to fend for herself.

In his desert shack, Elby the prospector gives food and well water to Carson, who says revenge is what sustained him up to now, although it no longer seems as important. Elby returns outside to the well and is struck from behind by Joe, who spotted the shack during the night. Joe shoots at Carson but misses him. The two men then engage in a desperate, brutal fistfight. A toppled stove causes the shack to catch fire. With both men inside barely conscious, a recovered Elby is able to drag Carson to safety while Joe perishes in the blaze.

The next day, as Erby drives Carson to the nearest town, they see Gerry walking by herself on a long, remote stretch of desert road. Erby stops his dilapidated car next to her, and Carson calmly tells Gerry that she can either wait for the authorities to come find her or ride with them now. She gets into the car.


  • Robert Ryan as Donald Whitley Carson III
  • Rhonda Fleming as Geraldine Carson
  • William Lundigan as Joseph Duncan
  • Larry Keating as Dave Emory
  • Henry Hull as Sam Elby
  • Carl Betz as Lt. Mike Platt
  • Robert Burton as Sheriff
  • Robert Adler as Ken, Ranch Hand
  • Harry Carter as Deputy Fred Parks
  • Everett Glass as Mason, Carson's Butler
  • Adrienne Marden as Emory's Secretary
  • Barbara Pepper as Waitress
  • Charles Tannen as voice of police radio broadcaster
  • Dan White as Lee, Ranch Hand


Inferno is 20th Century Fox's first, yet belated, foray into the world of 3-D film, a prevalent cinema fad in the 1950s.[3]

Inferno was remade for television in 1973 as Ordeal, with Arthur Hill in the Robert Ryan part and Diana Muldaur and James Stacy as his would-be murderers.[4]


Revival screenings[edit]

On February 1, 2013, Inferno was shown in digital 3-D in a double feature with Man in the Dark (1953) in the Noir City Film Festival at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.[5]

Inferno has been made available on Hulu in anaglyph 3D (not its native format).

Inferno was released as a 3D Blu-ray disk, from an excellent print, first from Panamint in Scotland and later by Twilight Time in the United States.

Critical response[edit]

When the film was released, The New York Times gave the film a positive review and lauded the direction of the picture and the acting, writing,

[A]s 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, in this case, she shares.[6]

In a positive review, Time Out Film Guide called the film, "A tight and involving essay in suspense which works on the ingenious idea of leaving the audience alone in the desert with an unsympathetic and selfish character," and noted the finer aspects of the 3-D film, writing,

Inferno was one of the best and last movies to be made in 3-D during the boom in the early '50s. Certainly its use of space emphasized the dramatic possibilities of 3-D and reveals, as more than one person has observed, that the device had largely been squandered in other films made at the time.[7]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and wrote,

"Inferno loses something when not seen in 3-D as intended when released, nevertheless it remains as a taut survival thriller. It makes good use of 3-D, in fact it does it better than most other such gimmicky films...The desert photography by Lucien Ballard is stunning.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  2. ^ Inferno on IMDb .
  3. ^ World 3-D Film Expo II web site, September 13, 2006. Last accessed: December 12, 2007.
  4. ^ Ordeal (1973 television film) on IMDb .
  5. ^ Noir City film festival website
  6. ^ The New York Times. Film review, August 12, 1953. Last accessed: December 12, 2007.
  7. ^ Time Out Film Guide. Time Out-New York, film review, 2006. Last accessed: December 12, 2007.
  8. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, November 14, 2005. Last access: December 1, 2009.

External links[edit]