During a trip to the Mojave Desert, millionaire Donald Carson III, having broken his leg falling off his horse, has been abandoned and left to die by Geraldine, his adulterous wife, and mining engineer Joe Duncan, a man she's known for just a few days.
Gerry and Joe leave the injured man a blanket, a canteen and a gun before driving off, supposedly to seek medical aid. As the hours go by and Carson realizes the truth of his predicament, he vows to live long enough to exact revenge against his wife and her accomplice.
Carson is reported missing to police lieutenant Mike Platt and to Dave Emory, who is Carson's lawyer and business manager. Gerry doesn't mention the broken leg and claims her husband wandered off. Emory isn't yet too concerned because Carson is a temperamental alcoholic who has acted irresponsibly more than once.
The lovers fly to Carson's mansion in Los Angeles knowing that Carson is a good 60 miles from where they told the police to look. They expect him to succumb to the desert heat or to shoot himself with the gun. Far more resourceful than they anticipated, Carson manages to make a splint, then crawl his way to an abandoned mine, where he uses timber for a makeshift crutch. He finds sustenance from the meat of a cactus and attempts in vain to shoot a rabbit with the gun. He later succeeds in shooting a deer and hanging the meat to dry, assuring his survival.
When it rains, after Carson has been gone a week, Gerry and Joe are relieved because it has permanently covered any tracks they left. Carson is presumed dead by the law. Joe flies a plane over the region, just in case, and spots a fire Carson has made. Knowing now he's alive, Joe finds it necessary to drive back into the desert and finish off Carson once and for all.
Gerry waits in the car while Joe stalks his prey. Just as he aims his gun, Joe is startled by the sight of Carson being found by an old prospector driving a jalopy. Returning to his own car, Joe discovers that Gerry has run it into a rock. He realizes that she'd intended to drive off and leave him there. Joe angrily walks away, leaving Gerry to fend for herself.
In a desert shack, Elby the prospector gives food and well water to Carson, who says revenge is what sustained him up to now, but suddenly it no longer seems important. Elby goes back outside to the well and is struck from behind by Joe, who spotted the shack. Joe then attempts to kill Carson, but is engaged in a brutal fistfight. A toppled stove causes the shack to catch fire. With both men inside barely conscious, a recovered Elby is able to drag Carson to safety while the other man perishes in the blaze.
From the car, Gerry is seen walking by herself along a remote road. Carson calmly tells her that she can wait for the authorities to come find her or be driven to them now. She gets into the car.Robert Ryan as Donald Whitley Carson III
Rhonda Fleming as Geraldine Carson
William Lundigan as Joseph Duncan
Larry Keating as Dave Emory
Henry Hull as Sam Elby
Carl Betz as Lt. Mike Platt
Robert Burton as Sheriff
Robert Adler as Ken, Ranch Hand
Harry Carter as Deputy Fred Parks
Everett Glass as Mason, Carson's Butler
Adrienne Marden as Emory's Secretary
Barbara Pepper as Waitress
Charles Tannen as voice of police radio broadcaster
Dan White as Lee, Ranch Hand
Inferno is 20th Century Fox's first, yet belated, foray into the world of 3-D film, a prevalent cinema fad in the 1950s.
Inferno was remade for television in 1973 as Ordeal, with Arthur Hill in the Robert Ryan part and Diana Muldaur and James Stacy as his would-be murderers.
On February 1, 2013, Inferno was shown in digital 3-D in a double feature with Man in the Dark (1953) in the Noir City Film Festival at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.
Inferno has been made available on Hulu in anaglyph 3D (not its native format).
Inferno was released as a 3D Blu-ray disk, from an excellent print. It is out of print, and commands a high price.
When the film was released, The New York Times gave the film a positive review and lauded the direction of the picture and the acting, writing, "[A]s fragmentary realism the picture rings true and persuasive. Mr. Ryan's portrayal of the gritty, determined protagonist is, of course, a natural. Miss Fleming, one of Hollywood's coolest, prettiest villainesses, knows how to handle literate dialogue, which, in this case, she shares."
In a positive review, Time Out Film Guide called the film, "A tight and involving essay in suspense which works on the ingenious idea of leaving the audience alone in the desert with an unsympathetic and selfish character," and noted the finer aspects of the 3-Dimension film, writing, "Inferno was one of the best and last movies to be made in 3-D during the boom in the early '50s. Certainly its use of space emphasized the dramatic possibilities of 3-D and reveals, as more than one person has observed, that the device had largely been squandered in other films made at the time."
Film critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and wrote, "Inferno loses something when not seen in 3-D as intended when released, nevertheless it remains as a taut survival thriller. It makes good use of 3-D, in fact it does it better than most other such gimmicky films...The desert photography by Lucien Ballard is stunning.