Saturday, February 28, 2009

More young Spencer Tracy

I mentioned several months ago that Spencer Tracy spent the early years of his career at Fox, before coming to MGM where he became a big star. Some of those Fox movies, however, are quite good, and one of the best, Dante's Inferno, will be airing at 7:30 AM ET on March 1 on the Fox Movie Channel.

Tracy starts off the movie playing a ship's stoker, but gets himself fired, before getting a job being a carnival barker for veteran character actor Henry B. Walthall. Walthall's carnival "ride" is a re-enactment of Hell, designed as an educational and cautionary experience for its viewers about how they need to be more virtuous in their lives. Tracy, however, has other ideas. He sees the exhibit as too bland, and figures that it needs to be spiced up to bring in the patrons. This sets Tracy off on a journey not only toward immense wealth, but immense tragedy as well. Perhaps he should have heeded the lessons of The Inferno.

Spencer Tracy is quite good in Dante's Inferno, and it's quite easy to see why he was about to go on to bigger and better things in his career. However, there are more interesting things to the movie. There is some very good art direction, both involving the elaborate carnvial rides, and a climax involving a gambling ship that catches fire. In the middle, there's an outstanding dream sequence involving Tracy's vision of Dante's Inferno, after Walthall gives him a copy of that book.

Also interesting is the supporting cast. While this is Tracy's movie all the way, Walthall is notable, as is the woman playing his daughter (and eventually wife to Tracy). That's Claire Trevor, a dozen years before she won an Oscar for her role in Key Largo. Even more interesting is Marguerita Cansino, who shows up briefly as a ballroom dancer aboard Tracy's gambling ship. You may not recognize that name, because it was changed to further the actress' career. The changed name: Rita Hayworth.

This is the sort of movie that Fox really need to put out on DVD. They've got a rich library, and with a name like Spencer Tracy heading the cast, Dante's Inferno would be of interest to a lot of classic movie buffs, as well as possibly to the more casual fan who might not recognize other names of the 1930s. Sadly, though, it's not on DVD, meaning you have to look out for it on the Fox Movie Channel.

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