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Fritz Lang’s ‘Human Desire’ checks all the film noir boxes


Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford, who starred in Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat” in 1953, reunited the next year for “Human Desire.” She plays Vicki Buckley, a woman with a past, and he’s Jeff Warren, a Korean war veteran who is drawn into her web.

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Blu-ray, 1954, unrated, adult themes, violence Best extra: There’s only one – “Terror and Desire: Emily Mortimer on Human Desire

FRITZ LANG once said, “I am profoundly fascinated by cruelty, fear, horror and death. My films show my preoccupation with violence, the pathology of violence.” The great director (“Metropolis”) left no doubt about that with the still unnerving “M,” filmed in 1931 in Germany, or when he left for America and added his name to the annals of film noir with “The Woman in the Window,” “Scarlet Street,” “Clash by Night,” “The Blue Gardenia” and “The Big Heat.” “Human Desire,” new to Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics collection, checks all the boxes, too. It doesn’t hurt that it’s based on Émile Zola’s 1890 novel “La Bête humaine” (first adapted by Jean Renoir in 1938), was written by Alfred Hayes (Oscar-nominated for “Paisan” and “Teresa”), scored by Daniele Amfitheatrof (likewise for “Guest Wife” and “Song of the South”), and filmed by Burnett Guffey (who won Oscars for “From Here to Eternity” and “Bonnie and Clyde”). Then there are the names on the marquee: Lang reunited Glenn Ford (“Gilda”) and Gloria Grahame (Oscar winner for “The Bad and the Beautiful”), who starred in “The Big Heat,” and added Oscar winner Broderick Crawford (“All the King’s Men”) to the potent mix.

(1) “Human Desire” premiered Aug. 6, 1954, in New York City. (2&3) After his discharge from the Army, Warren returns to his job as an engineer. Edgar Buchanan (right, second frame shot) plays his good friend and co-worker, Alec Simmons. (4) Broderick Crawford is the abusive, hot-tempered assistant yardmaster Carl Buckley. (5&6) Jeff is greeted by Vera Simmons (Diane DeLaire) and their daughter Ellen (Kathleen Case), who has a major crush on him.

Here’s the skinny, courtesy of When Carl Buckley (Crawford), a drunken, abusive assistant railway yardmaster, is fired, he compels his seductive wife Vicki (Grahame) to ask railroad exec John Owens (Grandon Rhodes, “All the King’s Men”) to get him his job back. She does, but she and Owens have a history, and Buckley soon suspects that she let Owens seduce her. Consumed with jealousy, Buckley stabs Owens to death on a train and uses a letter from Vicki to the dead man to ensure that she stays quiet. Enter Jeff Warren (Ford), a Korean war veteran who’s just returned to his job as an engineer. He’s traveling on the same train the night of the murder and sees Vicki leaving the compartment. Even though Ellen Simmons (Kathleen Case, “Running Wild”), the fresh-faced daughter of his co-worker Alec (Edgar Buchanan, “Shane”), is smitten with him, and he with her, Jeff falls hard for Vicki and doesn’t mention her at the inquest. Later, embroiled in a passionate affair, Vicki reveals the danger she’s in and convinces Jeff that he must kill her husband. If you think you know how it ends, odds are you’re wrong. The performances are top-flight across the board, but just try taking your eyes off Grahame. She oozes carnality. Guffey is also on top of his game, especially in the train’s close quarters and the way he employs light and shadows.

(1-3) After he’s fired, Carl presses Vicki to call railway exec John Owens (Grandon Rhodes), an old acquaintance of hers, and joins her on the train to Chicago. (4) Suspicious of just how Vicki got his job back, Carl waits outside the door to Owens’ compartment and then murders him. (5) Warren and Vicki meet for the first time after she flees the scene.

VIDEO/AUDIO The 2K master was portered over from Sony, and while that will probably make a difference to folks with super-size setups, “Human Desire” (1.85: 1 aspect ratio) looks fine on my 42-incher. Other than what appears to be stock railway footage, which is heavy on the grain and streaky, the glorious B&W imagery pops. Detail is sharp – down to the beads of sweat on Carl Buckley’s forehead – the gray scale is broad and nuanced, blacks are solid, there’s contrast to spare and the print is clean and stable. The print’s organic quality is really appealing. As for audio, there’s just one track: the standard English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. While it’s funneled to the front speaker, there’s no competition between the dialogue and score. Everything is crystal clear. EXTRAS KL come up short here, with a single feature, “Terror and Desire: Emily Mortimer on Human Desire,” that clocks in at under 10 minutes. Who knows why Mortimer (“Lars and the Real Girl,” “Mary Poppins Returns”) was recruited, but she’s clearly a fan of the movie. She draws some parallels between Graham’s turn here and Barbara Stanwyck’s iconic performance in “Double Indemnity,” and there’s no arguing with her conclusion that “there’s something bold and erotic and dark about ‘Human Desire’ that’s lost in contemporary films.” If film noir’s your thing, “Human Desire” won’t disappoint. Craig Shapiro

(1&2) Buckley burns the clothes he was wearing the night of the murder then shows Vicki the note she had her write to Owens setting up the rendezvous on the train. He’s keeping it to keep her silent. (3) An inquest is held after Owens is murdered. (4) Ellen asks Jeff about his relationship with Vicki.


(1&2) Buckley confronts Vicki when she tries to leave town. (3) Does the look on his face tell you how the confrontation ends?


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