The Fritz Lang film Human Desire was a remake of Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine, and based on the Emile Zola novel of the same name. It’s one of his 1950s films, staring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, who both starred the year before in The Big Heat. That’s the better film, but Human Desire is still very good. Lang worked closely with screenwriter Albert Hayes, who also wrote for Rossellini and somehow managed to avoid being blacklisted despite his politics. The producer, Louis J. Rachmil, had loved Renoir’s film and wanted to remake it for ages.
Ford stars as Jeff, a train conductor and a Korean War vet, who has a girlfriend—but then gets involved with Vicki (Grahame), who is married to the assistant yard supervisor, Carl, played by Broderick Crawford. A jealous man, he also commits a murder, and drags his wife into the mess. Jeff saw Vicki leaving the train carriage soon after the time that the murder happened. The police arrive, there’s a trial, but everyone has their own intentions. Everyone in the story lives in a moral grey area, and Carl is soon blackmailing her, while she is flirting with Jeff and trying to convince him to do something he shouldn’t.
It’s a classic noir plot, with two of the greats on the bill: Marlon Brando was actually approached, but turned it down because he thought Lang was slumming it with such a trashy film. Peter Lorre was also on the list, but by all accounts there was some bad blood between Lorre and Lang after M, so that didn’t happen. Rita Hayworth was the initial choice for Vicki, but Grahame was far more suited for the hard-boiled role. It’s not one of Lang’s very best noirs, but of course it’s well shot. There’s a fair amount of location photography, and you get to see the underbelly of middle-America working class life, which is interesting. The performances are all quite good. So, it’s a solid noir from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, who was then really getting into his stride as an American filmmaker.
The Blu-Ray only includes one extra, an interview with Tony Rayns, who has done a lot of interviews for Lang’s American films. As usual, he becomes somewhat dismissive of his German films, which is baffling, because other than a couple of his noirs they were his best work. He’s also dismissive of Lang’s devout anti-fascism, which is bizarre. There’s also a booklet with some essays on the film.