Human Desire (1954)

It’s Son of Columbia Film Noir! Yes, we’re hitting the 50s noir switch again for the next few days as we cut a swathe through the second Columbia noir box, starting with this item from Fritz Lang… I’m nowhere near as familiar with Lang’s American career as I am his earlier German years, so I wasn’t au fait with this title and didn’t even do my usual pre-watching research. Still, when I considered the way the title sequence was set on a train and how Emile Zola was listed in the credits, I thought “ah, La bete humaine“, and so it was… basically Lang gives us Zola updated from the Franco-Prussian War to post-Korean War; the story adapts quite well to the requirements of 50s melodrama and the film follows the broad outline (or perhaps it follows Renoir’s 1938 film more than the book as such), but there’s one significant change, i.e. Jeff Warren—this film’s equivalent of Zola’s Lantier—is not the psychopath Lantier is. As such, the focus shifts a bit more to the husband and wife and their disintegrating marriage, and the film is surprisingly forward (considering the period, of course) about the degree to which sex underpins the action; even early on, when Gloria Grahame’s character talks about going back to work when her husband is fired, I somehow got the feeling it was a bit more than just an ordinary office job she used to do. It’s not quite up to the standard set by The Big Heat in the first set, but that would’ve been hard to beat anyway; on its own terms Human Desire succeeds quite well at depicting a pretty grim situation, and it makes a pretty promising introduction to the second Columbia noir collection.

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