Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Human Desire (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

HUMAN DESIRE (1953), directed by Fritz Lang, was recently released by Kino Lorber in a Special Edition Blu-ray.

I first saw HUMAN DESIRE a dozen years ago, in 2011, and while I liked certain aspects of the film on that first viewing, my overall reaction was somewhat tepid.

In the ensuing years many people I respect have spoken about the film with enthusiasm and I wondered if I'd feel differently seeing the movie in a new context. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray was the perfect opportunity to revisit it, and as it turns out, I did like the film considerably more on this second viewing.

As on my first watch of the movie, I found the film visually enticing; the train sequences and locations are absolutely great. What changed for me was that the plot completely exasperated me the first time around -- I described it as "Stupid People Doing Stupid Things" -- but on this viewing I was willing to "lean into" their problems and found it intriguing rather than annoying.

The plot concerns Jeff (an uber-handsome Glenn Ford), a Korean War vet who returns to his small town and his job as a railroad engineer.

Jeff has the potential for a nice life, with a good, steady job, and Ellen (Kathleen Case), the lovely daughter of his best friend Alec (Edgar Buchanan), clearly has a crush on Jeff and sees him as marriage material.

Jeff says he wants a simple life of fishing and going to the movies, but then he falls hard for the married Vicki (Gloria Grahame) when he sees her on a train and his life quickly gets very complicated.

Unfortunately, Vicki's husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) has just killed a man on that very train, and when Jeff lies at the inquest about seeing Vicki and Carl near the dead man's compartment, he's soon in over his head.

Vicki has more than a little similarity to Phyllis in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and she'd like to be free of Carl -- permanently. And she certainly doesn't want to take care of it herself...

Spoiler alert: Those not wanting to know more about the plot might want to stop reading here until seeing the movie. I don't give the entire ending away but do discuss some aspects of it.

While I was frustrated with Jeff's stupidity on the first viewing, this time I could better understand how Vicki enticed him, and I also realized that he was under her spell for much less time than I remembered before he snaps out of it and realizes he's being played. Rather than being annoyed by his succumbing to her temptation in the first place, this time around I was glad he had the smarts to extricate himself before it was too late! It comes as a significant relief.

Jeff has a great moment near the end where he pulls the cord and sounds the train horn, symbolically reconnecting with Ellen, who blew the horn earlier in the movie when she and Jeff had an important conversation. Combined with Jeff's rapprochement with Alec, seen as Alec lights Jeff's cigarette with his pipe, I found the ending much more satisfying. I also liked that the movie didn't drag on, but clocks in at a pitch-perfect 91 minutes.

Crawford's bullying husband was about as boring as the first time, but I found Grahame fascinating. The passage of a dozen years definitely gave me a fresh perspective on her performance and her character, especially having seen Grahame in numerous films in that time frame.

In fact, the Grahame films I watched since my first viewing of HUMAN DESIRE included the phenomenal THE BIG HEAT (1953), the previous film she'd made with Lang and Ford. My great admiration for that film definitely impacted my willingness to give HUMAN DESIRE a new look.

Instead of finding her "poor me" staring-into-space routine tedious, I enjoyed watching a master manipulator at work. The layers of Vicki's character are fascinating; when the film begins she's bored but willing to help out by going back to work when Carl loses his job. Of course, her boredom probably plays into that noble gesture...

Vicki seems genuinely reluctant when Carl pushes her to beg a powerful man for his job back...but then she does what she feels she needs to do. And once Carl kills, all bets are off -- and she finally has a good excuse to drop their marital relationship.

HUMAN DESIRE was written by Alfred Hayes, inspired by a novel by Emile Zola.

The supporting cast includes Diane DeLaire, Grandon Rhodes, John Maxwell, Olan Soule, Dan Seymour, and Peggy Maley.

Ford and Crawford, incidentally, would reunite a couple years later in the Western THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956).

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray shows off the superb, gritty black and white photography of Burnett Guffey. It looks great.

Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer; a gallery of three additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a brief featurette with actress Emily Mortimer speaking on the film which was carried over from the Columbia Film Noir Classics II DVD release.

This special edition also includes reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcase.


Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Anonymous Barry Lane said...

For whatever they are worth, my take on human Desire is essentially what transpires on screen with Brod Crawford and Glenn Ford changing parts. Ford's good looks for Brod's warmth and energy. Not the way they did it in those days, but today...?

8:20 PM  

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