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domenica 17 aprile 2011

Roy Ward Baker’s Inferno and his tridimensional anti hero

Out in the desert a couple is staging the disappearance of the woman’s husband. After jammed the car in the sand, her lover leaves traces with a pair of boots, like if the other man had walked away. Mr. Carson is a healthy millionaire with drinking problems and a bad temper. He has been left by his wife and his friend up a mountain, after he has fallen from horse breaking his leg.
With few supplies in a bag and just water for a day, the man starts wonder what happened to the two, to soon realize they are not coming back to rescue him. The cheating couple has taken advantage of this unfortunate event; they have staged the disappearance of Mr. Carson, after one of his frequent flying to rage as they tell to the Police. The law enforcement questions them and starts to look for the man, but the two have a well planned plot, since Mr. Carson is in the exactly opposite direction from where they have left the car and the footprints. It’s a perfect plan, but they have not consider that Carson is not an easy man to give up.
With the few means at his disposal,  he manages to fix his broken leg and starts to climb down the rocky mountain; and when the lovers realize he could still be alive, they go for a hunt trying to tracking him down and to kill him once and for all.
Shot in 1953 by Roy Ward Baker, who will later direct the celebrated A night to remember and such Hammer and Amicus horror cults like Legend of the seven golden vampire, Scars of Dracula, And now the screaming starts just to name few, the film was the first and only Fox production to be shot in 3D and in gorgeous Technicolor. While the 3D was the next big thing in those years, Zanuck the great man in charge of production at Fox was more interested to develop other filming process to compete with new rising star of American entertainment: television. Fox gave birth shortly after to his revolutionary wide screen format CinemaScope and never produced a 3D picture anymore (until now).
With a simple plot, survive and revenge, and at only 83 minutes length, Inferno was supposed to fill the typical double bill program, as it did when Fox paired it with Rawhide.
While the film has been forgotten and little seen during the years, it shines of his own bright light and it’s a tight exercise in tension and suspense.
Mostly is due to Baker simple and effective direction, when with a shoestring budget he manages the get the best from the desert rocks and landscapes in which the biggest part of the story takes place. The use of the stereoscopic process to film  this was certainly as ucommon as modern, when most of the directors were interested only to scare the pants off their viewers launching stuff to the camera in every possible manner.
The movie suffers in the city scenes between the two lovers, with little chemistry between Rhonda Fleming (a 3D aficionado) and William Lundigan, while when we cut to Carson, angrily played by the excellent Robert Ryan, and his task to survive, the story flies high and delivers. There’s no 3D trickery until we reach the final confrontation between Carson and his greedy opponent, with throwing of objects against the camera while the duo fight to survive. If the lovers’ characters are kept simple with their motivations and acts, what is the most interesting aspect of the film is Carson’s personality. It is the most uncommon for a commercial movie, specially in those years, to depict an unsympathetic man like Carson. The movie greatness lies in the simple fact that we take side with an anti hero in full: a man who’s rich, spoiled and simply bad as we are told from many of his friends and co workers when they are interrogated by the detectives. We assist to a transformation of this man in a very peculiar way: the battle to survive against the forces of nature and the difficulties he has to endure, will change him forever and he’ll start to appreciate even the smallest sip of water, which relevance he has never even thought before.
Little by little the viewer empathy, initially set with the lovers because of the depiction of Carson as a brutal man, shifts toward the latter, due to the fine writing in a screenplay so subtle to achieve this very difficult change. While his acts in the beginning are motivated by the will of revenge, they’ll be refocused during the film. There are more important things in life than to prevail on someone else: true friendship and mutual understanding.
The ending is as anticlimactic as unsatisfactory for a 50’s audience left puzzled from the show, but it’s excellent. The typical final fight has already taken place, and Carson and a guy who found him in the desert are driving to town, when Carson sees on the edge of the road his wife stranded and abandoned. He gives her a lift to civilization. In this cathartic moment Carson sets free his personality, once and for all. He just doesn’t care anymore, he will not be prey of anger and rage since there’s something else now waiting for him: pain transformed him and made him a better human being.
The DVD examined here, is an official Fox release in Spain, and it comes housed in a nice cardboard as all Fox releases under the line Cinema Classics.The movie, presented in 2D, retains its OAR of 1.33:1 and looks good, with few minor issues. A vertical line at the right side of the frame is shown for the whole film, and there’s some inconsistency in the colour palette from one reel to another. This is mostly due to the 3D process, I believe, probably the movie has been re-mastered from composite film material struck from A and B 3D negatives and from  some dupe negatives. Specially the first reel looks gorgeous in vibrant Technicolor, while the others look less definite and saturated. There are no extras except the always useless cast and crew lists, and stills that are nothing less than screen grabs from the digital master. It’s easy to wonder how beautiful would be to watch at old 3D films like this, on a full HD 3D BRD. But since not even a DVD is available in most of the markets, I’m unfortunately afraid this is a need never to be fulfilled.
I strongly recommend to watch this enjoyable and well made, little film, with an uncommon Noir (in colour) Western structure that makes it as unusual as innovative in mixing the genres; supported by a strong performance by favourite tough guy Robert Ryan.

Film Mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

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