Newly restored from a variety of sources, it's still an amazing visual experience as the poet Virgil leads Dante on a journey through Purgatory and Hell. Taking visual inspiration from Gustav Doré's iconic illustrations, Giuseppe de Liguoro worked for more than three years with 150 people and what was then the biggest film budget ever to complete his masterpiece.
Considering it was made in 1911 for approximately $2 million and had to be rebuilt almost a century later, it's a fantastic exercise in early cinema. The footage is spectacular, and the primitive special effects still evoke the same shock and emotion they must have upon its premiere.
L'Inferno's pantheon of demons and sinners are imaginatively conjured up on ambitious sets using a variety of then-pioneering cinematic tricks such as forced perspective to allow a gigantic Pluto to rage at the dwarfed interlopers, overlays for when they arrive at the city of Dis and see furies scaling the battlements and an ingenious combination of miniatures and live action to create remarkable encounters with three chained giants and a final confrontation with Lucifer himself.
Sam Warner's idea was to take the film on the road, together with a narrator, who, while the movie unspooled, would read extracts from the original poem. The idea worked. The film opened in Hartford, Connecticut, and, according to Jack Warner, you could hear the cash registers ringing all the way to Ohio. The tour netted them $1,500 which Sam and Jack blew on a crap game in New York.
Directed by Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan
Written by: Dante Alighieri (poem)
Stars: Salvatore Papa, Arturo Pirovano, Giuseppe de Liguoro