Human Desire (1954)

Screencap from Human Desire

‘Fritz Lang’s 1954 American version of the Zola novel (and Renoir film) La bĂȘte humaine. Gloria Grahame, at her brassiest, pleads with Glenn Ford to do away with her slob of a husband, Broderick Crawford. Lang mines the railroad setting for a remarkably rich series of visual correlatives to his oppressively Catholic conception of guilt and retribution. A gripping melodrama, marred only by Ford’s inability to register an appropriate sense of doom.’

— Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Screencap from Human Desire

‘Visually Human Desire is constructed with a graphic determinism that is more relentless than any usage in Renoir’s film and brings it a bit closer in spirit to Zola’s naturalistic novel. The metaphorically ominous sequence of a churning dark sea under the titles of Lang’s Clash by Night are echoed in Human Desire by opening and closing shots of a myriad of railroad tracks randomly interweaving and separating in a switching yard. This obvious metaphor for human paths crossing and affecting each other under the pull of some unseen relentlessly moving fate is linked directly to Jeff Warren, since the image is revealed as his point-of-view from the cab of an engine.’

— Robert Porfiro, Film Noir – The Encyclopedia (Overlook Duckworth, 2010)

Screencap from Human Desire

‘Still, Gloria Grahame’s portrayal of Vicki is as sexually charged as Simone Simon’s in the French original. Her final confrontation with Carl, when she details her sexual adventures, is more perverse than any aspect of Simon’s lighter rendering of the same character moment.’

— Porfiro

Screencap from Human Desire

Screencap from Human Desire

‘The geometric patterns formed by the passengers in the court are also inventive. They recall the still lifes formed by massed objects in other Lang films. Only here, the “objects” are people, not the inanimate objects of other Lang movies. The people are in the same rectilinear, massed groupings of the objects in other films. The turning of people into objects to be measured and arranged has sinister implications. It recalls both the Taylorization of modern factories, where people become part of the machinery of the plants, and the control of totalitarian states, and their ability to itemize every human being. Here, it is the power of the state that is doing this, at the inquest.’

— Mike Grost, The Films of Fritz Lang

Screencap from Human Desire

Screencap from Human Desire

‘As the narrative develops, every line and bar shadow added as a background detail recalls those fateful vectors of the first sequence, vectors that mock the ineffectual attempts by the film’s characters to redeem their desolate lives with desperate pleasures. Unlike the Zola original, the protagonist here is no longer a “human beast” but simply a victim of his own “human desire,” one who finally retreats into his own solitude. Like “Charlie” in Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960), Jeff settles for the role of observer rather than player in the drama of life.’

— Porfiro

Screencap from Human Desire

‘According to the director, Wald called Lang and Alfred Hayes in at one point and said, “Everybody is bad in your picture.” “Naturally,” Lang responded, “because Zola wanted to show that in every human being is a beast.” “You both don’t understand it,” insisted Wald. “The woman is the human beast.” Lang’s anecdote concluded: “What can you do against the producer? Hayes and I looked at each other and tried to convince him, and then we made a compromise and again it became a triangle story.”‘

— Patrick McGilligan, Fritz Lang – The Nature of the Beast (St Martin’s, 1997)

Screencap from Human Desire

‘There is no faulting the visual quality of Human Desire. [DP] Burnett Guffey’s work was at times poetical; and Robert Peterson and William Kiernan — also the unsung heroes of The Big Heat — dished up a bona fide American interiorscape, with rooms dominated by TV sets, parakeet cages, dime-store prints, and A-1 sauce on the kitchen table.’

— McGilligan

Screencap from Human Desire

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