Is Dante’s “Inferno” really an “epic love story?” I’m pretty sure it’s not. Having read the “Inferno” in high school (as did most people, I’m assuming), I recall it being two guys strolling down through the circles of Hell and making idle commentary on Hell’s stomach-churning yet cleverly ironic torture techniques.
Regardless, Warner Bros bought a Dante’s Inferno pitch this week, from screenwriter Dwain Worrell (The Wall, which made the 2014 Black List). And it’s “based on the epic love story that is at the core of Dante’s ‘Inferno,’” clarifying that “Dante descends through the nine levels of Hell to save the woman he loves.” No details beyond that, but WB clamped onto Worrell’s Inferno because of its “scale” and “franchise potential,” which sounds about right.
But a weird love story Dante’s Inferno is par for the course, really. Rarely is a Dante’s Inferno movie just a straight-up adaptation; the original text is totally impenetrable for your average moviegoing audience, and the punishments (sinners morphed into bushes and eaten alive, sinners wading through a river of their own feces) are just a touch on the graphic side. Usually you have to nudge things around a bit to make it movie-palatable. Those nudges can lead to some baffling creative decisions.
So here’s four of the most baffling ones out there.
Dante’s Inferno… As a Completely Unrelated Spencer Tracy Movie
Harry Lachman’s 1935 Dante’s Inferno is “loosely based” on The Divine Comedy… in that it’s a completely unrelated story that morphs into Dante’s Inferno for ten minutes, just before the third act. Instead of Dante, we’ve got Spencer Tracy as Jim Carter, a down-on-his-luck steam engine worker who finds a job at a local carnival (and that “job” is to paint himself up in blackface and poke his head through a sheet, so carnival-goers can pay to chuck baseballs at a pretend black person. I guess this was real game in 1935? Today, it’s nothing short of appalling).
Jim rises through the ranks, taking charge of a sideshow attraction based around the “Inferno” (despite having never read it- “who’s his sidekick in the kimono?” he asks, pointing at a picture of Dante with Virgil). But with great power comes inordinate amounts of greed, and Jim wants his Inferno ride to be bigger. Better. More steam. More shirtless men in devil horns. Safety standards be damned.
This goes poorly, and Jim’s Inferno collapses in on itself, killing a safety inspector and wounding the carnival’s owner (who’s also Jim’s mentor, to boot). While infirm, he hallucinates a vision of the real “Inferno,” and unlike the rest of the film, it’s mesmerizing. For ten minutes, Dante’s Inferno transforms into a stagecraft masterpiece, as hundreds of nude bodies writhe across massive practical mountains, moaning in torment and hurling themselves into rivers of fire and steam.
Then back to the real world. Jim’s still a greedy good-for-nothing; he buys a giant casino boat; the boat explodes; a mangled Jim finally sees the error of his ways. Roll credits.
Fun facts: some allege that the awe-inspiring Inferno sequence is lifted from an earlier 1924 adaption of Dante’s work. Some who’ve seen both films say this isn’t the case. To this day, no one knows the real origin of those ten minutes (for added effect, re-read that last paragraph after queuing up this spooky theremin music).
Dante’s Inferno… as a Wacky Swedish Comedy
In 1972’s Mannen som slutade röka (in English: The Man Who Quit Smoking), Dante Alighieri (Gösta Ekman) is the young heir to a vast sausage-making fortune. He also loves to smoke. Dad dies, and in his will he sets a challenge for Dante: quit smoking in two weeks (then, don’t take a single drag for a year), and all that sweet, greasy sausage money is yours.
So with the help of his girlfriend Beatrice and the private detective agency he’s hired (a stand-in for Virgil), Dante descends through the circles of his own personal withdrawal Hell, as his uncle (who gets the millions if Dante smokes) works to sabotage him.
I’m fascinated by the idea of The Man Who Quit Smoking, which is considered a Swedish cult classic. But because of its limited online presence (also, I don’t speak a word of Swedish), I’ve found very little about this film so far. Here, I’ll share with you my paltry findings:
A Flickr album of illustrations from the original “The Man Who Quit Smoking” book that the film was based on.
If you know anything about The Man Who Quit Smoking (especially where I might find a copy), please don’t hesitate to comment and/or tweet me. I’d really appreciate it. So would Swedish sausage Dante.
(NSFW Warning: Violence, Several Feet of Satanic Penis)
Dante’s Inferno… As an Erotic Action Blockbuster
I feel like most adaptations of the “Inferno” tend to downplay all the really gross, gratuitous horror aspects. Cut out any thing too overt, nude, or involving rivers of human feces, and you keep things very audience-friendly. The opposite response would be Dante’s Inferno, the 2010 game that was adapted into an animated tie-in film, and that Evil Dead remake helmer Fede Alvarez was tapped to direct for Universal couple years back (the last update from Alvarez, circa May 2014: “It sounds like that might be the next film”).
This Dante’s Inferno takes every potentially risqué aspect of “Inferno” and twists the dial from “potentially risqué” to “downright tasteless,” then keeps turning until our little tastefulness-monitoring machine has burst into flame.
Dante doesn’t walk (what a wuss) through Hell to find Beatrice. That’s kid stuff. This Dante carves his way through Hell with a kick-ass extendable scythe, to rescue Beatrice’s soul after it was kidnapped by Lucifer (“What, she’s just waiting for him up in Heaven? Ugh. So not hardcore enough”).
Cleopatra is now 50 feet tall, buck naked, and- I’m not making this up, I swear to you – shoots unbaptized babies out of her erect nipples to try and kill Dante. And yes, the unbaptized babies have razor hooks for hands, just as Dante intended.
Lucifer is about what you’d expect. He’s got the cloven hooves, bowling ball pecs, glistening six-pack. Oh, and a two-foot long horse penis that swings past his knees (Why? Fuck you, that’s why). The animated Dante’s Inferno tie-in takes great pains to only show Lucifer from the waist up, but once you know what’s offscreen, you can’t help but see it in your mind’s eye, every time.
If Alvarez ever gets around to his take on the Dante’s Inferno game, he better not skimp on the infernal dong.
Courtesy of The Walt Disney Company
Dante’s Inferno… As Interpreted By Mickey Mouse
It’s not technically a film adaptation, but holy crap would I be remiss if I didn’t include this one: “L’Inferno di Topolino” (or in English: “Mickey’s Inferno”), an Italian Mickey Mouse comic published between 1949 and 1950, where Mickey traverses a cartoony, Disneyfied version of Dante’s torture-ridden depiction of Hell.
Mickey and Goofy start out the comic performing The Divine Comedy at the local playhouse. Mickey plays Dante, Goofy plays Virgil. Peg Leg Pete (or, in Italian, Pietro Gambadilegno) is wracked with jealousy over their super-awesome interpretation of Dante, and hypnotizes them both out of spite.
So Mickey and Goofy think they really are Dante and Virgil, and that Minnie is Beatrice (Minnie’s reply, roughly translated: “You’re a raving lunatic!”). And when they take shelter in a library and find a copy of The Divine Comedy, a tree branch reaches out and pulls ’em both in. Now Mickey-Dante and Goofy-Virgil must traverse a cutesy “Inferno” for real, including Disney cartoon demons and Disney cartoon sinners drowning in a Disney cartoon river of fire. Dumbo, Donald Duck and the Big Bad Wolf also make cameos as denizens of Disney Hell.
Disney finally put out an English translation of “L’Inferno di Topolino” in 2006.