Best of… Series – 1935 – Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Inferno (Harry Lachman, 1935)

What an interesting mixed bag. The first half of the film filled with the fiery depths of a ship’s coal room, an atmospheric carnival, and the most realistic depiction of hell I’ve ever seen (I’ll get to this in a moment) was fascinating. We witness a man so low that he’s just been fired as a coal shoveler and a ball-toss game target. He’s taken under the wing of one of the other carnival vendors where his previously wasted knowledge for business makes his mentor’s show the biggest at the fair. The set pieces used for this show (which is a tour through Dante’s Inferno) are elaborate and stunning. Couple that with the previous showcasing of the rest of the carnival’s attractions, and I was captivated by the ambiance.

Then, perhaps as unexpected as any scene in any film I’ve seen, we’re shot into a nightmare-ish ten minutes of literal hell. Dirty, naked souls agonize in physical and mental torture – trapped without love, being slowly swallowed up by chains, fire, and even the land. It’s a gruesome sight, but one you can’t peel your eyes from. Its contrast with the film up to that point makes it as haunting a scene as it gets, and as a technical achievement it’s even more mesmerizing. However, there is debate on whether it was pulled from an existing film, which I can’t confirm or deny personally. Hearing that, though, does make me question how much credit I can give this film for it. But regardless, its placement in this film is still affecting. Unfortunately, what follows this scene is quite a letdown compared to the first half. Much of what makes this film great is abandoned, and makes for an extremely disappointing finish which was torture to my soul. 🙂  8.25/10

UPDATE: I did track down the movie where the hell scene was rumored to be borrowed from. It was NOT taken from that movie. I guess it is original to this, but wow, what a different style.

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