Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Inferno (1953) Mojave Desert Noir

It would be a good double bill with Bad Day At Black Rock (1955). It's one of those sun-baked Films Soleil Noirs set in The Desert, the polar opposite of the Noir City. These films are usually filmed either in the American West, Mexico, the Mediterranean, or in the Tropics. Here the emphasis is on agoraphobia and not claustrophobia. In a Film Noir it's usually what you can't see that can kill you, in a Film Soleil everything you see can kill you.

Inferno was directed by Roy Ward Baker (Don't Bother to Knock (1952)). It was shot not only in Technicolor but also in 3-D and with stereophonic sound. The story and screenplay was by Francis M. Cockrell (Alfred Hitchcock Presents Writer (1955-1959)). The cinematography was by classic noir cinematographer, Lucien Ballard (Moontide (1942), Laura (1944), Berlin Express (1948), The House on Telegraph Hill (1951), Don't Bother to Knock (1952), The Killer Is Loose (1956), The Killing (1956), A Kiss Before Dying (1956), Murder by Contract (1958), and The Wild Bunch (1969)). The music was by Paul Satwell.

The Mojave Desert

The film stars Robert Ryan (over ten classic noir) as Donald Whitley Carson III, Rhonda Fleming (eight classic noir) as Geraldine "Gerry" Carson, William Lundigan (Follow Me Quietly (1949), The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)) as Joseph Duncan, Larry Keating (Whirlpool (1950)) as Dave Emory, Henry Hull (High Sierra (1941)) as desert rat Sam Elby, Carl Betz (who was in the I wake Up Screaming remake Vicki (1953), and well known to the boomer generation as the dad on The Donna Reed Show TV Series (1958–1966)) as Lt. Mike Platt, Robert Burton as the county sheriff, and finally the impressive Mojave Desert.

Donald Whitley Carson III (Robert Ryan)
Millionaire Donald "Don" Carson III (Ryan), a gruff, spoiled, selfish man, falls off his horse while on an exploratory expedition, looking for manganese outcrops in the back county of the Mojave Desert. His guide Joe (Lundigan) a mining engineer, and his wife Gerry Carson (Fleming) leave him behind with a lean-to for shade, a gun, some overnight provisions, and water. They head back, the way they came in, to get a helicopter to fly him out.

Faking tracks

Gerry Carson (Rhonda Fleming)

Joe (William Lundigan)

Instead of riding to the rescue, Gerry and Joe, have other plans They have been playing hide the sausage every chance they got at the dude ranch whenever Don went to take care of business. They decide on an elaborate deception. Their story is to tell the authorities that Don wanted to leave the exploratory ride early. They make it look as if Don took the station wagon, got stuck, spun his wheels buried the rear wheel to the frame. Joe then takes an extra pair of Don's boots puts them on and walks backwards in the road dust to mark a false trail to make it look as if Don took off walking and got himself lost. The stuck sled is 20 plus miles from where Don is actually laid up. Any rescue squad is going to be searching a grid in the wrong place. By the time they find Don he will be a piece of desiccated, cooked, mummified critter chow.

Gerry will then inherit millions and Don will get Gerry to invest some money in opening his mining operation. They are quite the couple.

After a whole day goes by, Don realizes that they ain't a coming back. He must make do or die. Most of the film is his survival story. The tale concentrates on the things Don does, or figures out, to survive in the Mojave.

using two bolders to set his leg

Shooting at food

Lowering himself with a self made rope
He sets his leg. He makes a splint. He finds a crutch. He makes an extended rope by tying the ropes he has available together, and then by cutting his lean-to into thing strips and braiding these strips into more rope. The money he has in his wallet he can use to start fires. He uses his gun to try and hunt for food, though when he shoots a small scrawny rabbit, a coyote snatches it away. Survival of the fittest. During these sequences the director cross cuts briefly to Joe and Jerry misdirecting the sheriffs squad, or a sequence to emphasize Gerry eating well at a sumptuous dinner. When Don runs out of water they cross cut to Joe and Gerry at the dude ranch. She's sunbathing, and Joe is swimming, both enjoying the water poolside.

Don eventually crawls to an abandoned mine. There he finds a patch of barrel cactus and from them he gets water and some nourishment. He sees a seasonal stream course a dry waterfall with a sand filled basin. He digs in the sand at the bottom of the basin and finds some remnants of water. With his last bullet he manages to shoot a deer. Now he knows that he can and will survive and he sets off out of the mountains and onto the flats, on his crutch, with a new determination.

Back at the dude ranch, a week has gone by. Relieved that it has rained and covered any of their errant tracks Gerry and Joe start to breath easier. However, the fact that the authorities have not found the body by now, worries Joe enough that he takes to his plane and flies over the area where Don should be. Joe spies a fresh fire that shouldn't be there, and he knows now that Don is still alive.

Joe and Gerry get in their vehicle and go out into the Mojave to find Don and finish the job.  Of course it all goes Noirsville.


desert dirt track and a joshua tree to the rt. (they only grow in the Mojave Desert)

See we left him over here, we told the sheriff to look all the way over here....

Don Carson's office building

The Carson Mansion

Sheriff  looking over the scene on lt.


poolside shenanigans

Gerry and Joe made in the shade....

desert buggy 

desert rat Sam Elby (Henrt Hull)

a 3D shot throwing a kerosene lantern 

Josuha Trees

getting herself stuck

battle in the inferno

The film plays fine in 2D, you can count on your fingers the number of shots where the 3D process was used, falling rocks, a rattlesnake strike, a thrown kerosene lantern toss, the falling rafters in a shack fire, it was understated.

It's Robert Ryans' film, he's obsessed at first driven to get revenge and then eventually with his own survival against nature. The film freely makes use of a running voice over that reveals this change in his thoughts, hopes, frustrations and travails. Your first impressions of Ryan are indifferent, he's a jerk, maybe worse, maybe he deserves what he gets. Then through his struggles to live and the obstacles that he overcomes, you begin to root for him, and you also learn a bit about desert survival in the process. Rhonda Fleming's Gerry, is not given time enough in the film to get a fully fleshed out character. We don't know why she was pushed to cheating on Don, we can only guess. William Lundigan is also short changed in the same area. But that's not the point of the film, if it had explored all the emotional baggage it would have diluted the powerful character arc that Don displays, and become more of a soap opera melodrama.

Don goes from a millionaire having anything he desires to a man having nothing but his wits to survive. Henry Hull gives a great cameo performance as the dusty, crusty, desert rat who finally finds Don.

The screencaps are from copy I have that is a DVDr recorded off a cablecast a while ago. Since then there is now available a Fox Cinema Classics 2012 DVD. 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment