Human Desire (1954, Fritz Lang)

A happy result of my French Film Hiatus is that I’m getting around to seeing some English-language movies I’ve put off for a long time. This one is particularly long-awaited, part of my decade-spanning quest to see Every Fritz Lang Film. I announced the end of the quest a year and a half ago with The Return of Frank James, but actually I still had this one and Harakiri to go, I just didn’t know where to find them.

This is Lang’s version of the same story Renoir filmed as La Bete humaine, with the writer of Clash By Night and cinematographer of In a Lonely Place, and his two lead actors from the previous year’s The Big Heat. It was a prime year for noir, and this movie acts like noir, but I’m not sure that it counts… after all, the hero gets a happy ending and only the bad people get punished. So it’s more like Shockproof than Clash By Night.

Gloria shouldn’t smoke inside – it’s bad for the birds.
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Glenn Ford, who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup right now, plays a railman returned from the Korean War. Nervous, pinched-voiced fatale Gloria Grahame (Bogart’s neighbor in In a Lonely Place) is the dame he falls for. Then there’s a dichotomy of gruff middle-aged guys: Broderick Crawford (of The Black Cat and Born Yesterday) is Gloria’s mean, jealous, drunk, murderous husband, and Edgar Buchanan (later of Ride The High Country) is a kind friend and landlord to our man (with a daughter who’s hot for Glenn).

Glenn and Broderick:
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Gloria’s husband murders her (ex?) lover in a train car and makes her watch, keeping the note she wrote the lover to lure him into the train as protection so she won’t turn him in. Although if he wanted this protection to be more effective, he would’ve had her write the guy’s name on the letter… this note could’ve been addressed to any of her lovers.

The incriminating (?) note:
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Now tied to a husband she no longer loves (he also beats her – have I mentioned?) Gloria seduces Glenn and gets him to agree to murder the husband so they can run off together. Edward G. Robinson would’ve gone through with it, but Glenn Ford does not, telling off Gloria, who promptly blows up at her husband on another train and gets killed by him. Glenn ends up with his friend Edgar Buchanan’s underage daughter, to everybody’s delight.

Glenn and the good girl:
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At the emotional height of a movie where sleazy characters are having secret meetings and lots of off-camera sex, and Gloria Grahame’s sharp, pointy breasts are poking right out of her sweater, in the background we can see that she and her husband have separate beds, and so America’s morals are safely upheld. Reminds me of the scene of The 40 Year Old Virgin I caught on cable today where every kind of sex is loudly discussed but the word ‘shit’ is safely bleeped.
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