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Spencer Tracy, Rita and Gary Leon Dante's Inferno

A Fox Film (1935)

Producer: Sol M. Wurtzel
Director: Harry Lachman

Screenplay: Philip Klein and Robert Yost,
from poem by Dante Alighieri

The Stars:
Spencer Tracy: Jim Carter
Claire Trevor: Betty McWade
Henry B. Walthall: Pop McWade
Specialty Dancers:
Rita Cansino and Gary Leon

Dance staged by Sammy Lee and Eduardo Cansino
Gowns by Royer

Black and White, 88 mins. running time


Dante's Inferno has one claim to fame- it marked the feature film debut of Rita Hayworth (billed with her real name, Margarita Cansino shortened to Rita Cansino). She had only recently turned sixteen. Having been trained as a dancer since the time she learned to walk, her scene was fitting, a dance sequence. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, helped choreograph the number. Even though Rita's scene was brief, it took weeks to complete filming because early on, her partner, Gary Leon, sprained his ankle. The film's star Spencer Tracy later called Dante's Inferno "one of the worst pictures ever made anywhere, anytime."

Down on his luck, Jim Carter (Spencer Tracy) meets up with "Pop" McWade (Henry B. Walthall) and the two become friends. Pop gives Jim a job as a barker at his Coney Island concession stand called Dante's Inferno. It's one of the least popular attractions around. His first night on the job, Jim displays his showmanship by attracting big crowds. Later he gets to know Pop's niece, Betty (Claire Trevor). They fall in love and are soon married.

Shortly after, Jim gets the idea to re-do Pop's place. He turns Dante's Inferno into the biggest attraction in Coney Island. From there Jim climbs the ladder of success, with no regard for those he steps on along the way. He, his wife and newborn son become wealthy. But greed has overcome Jim. He knows Dante's Inferno is not up to safety code, but rather than spend money on repairs, he bribes the inspector. Inevitably, the structure collapses. Many are injured, including Pop. He's put on trial and denies even having spoken to the inspector on the day in question. Betty, who knows Jim talked to him that day, lies on the stand to save him from jail. But she can't stay. Taking their son, Sonny (Scott Beckett), she leaves him.

Meanwhile, Jim proceeds with an ambitious plan for a gambling ship. Though warned to postpone the date of the maiden voyage because of a worker's strike, he goes ahead on schedule. Amidst the drunken revelers emerges the floorshow, the dancing duo of Rita Cansino and Gary Leon. Unfortunately, the entertainment is cut short when an especially unruly drunkard starts a fire. Pandemonium erupts, people run for the lifeboats. Sonny had been on board. The fact that his son's life was endangered by his reckless action finally changes Jim's attitude. The family is then re-united.

Dante's Inferno began filming in late 1934 and finished in early 1935, but it was not released until that fall. Because of this, two films Rita made later, were released before Dante's Inferno. She was very young at the time, but made up to look much older. She wears a long flowing white dress with her jet black hair pulled tightly into a bun, until a moment in the dance when Rita's long tresses break free, as she and Leon whirl to the Latin rhythms of the Ernesto Lecuona number, "Maria La O".

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