She was born to be bad… to be kissed…to make trouble…” so ran the tag line for Human Desire—Fritz Lang’s 1954 noir thriller.
A chillingly dark film, Human Desire reunited Lang with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame from the previous year’s The Big Heat with the screenwriter of Lang’s 1952 noir, Clash by Night, Alfred Hayes.
Adapted from Émile Zola’s La Bête Humaine, Lang’s gripping thriller has Ford as train engineer, Jeff, just home from the Korean War. He’s instantly attracted to Vicki (Grahame), not yet realising that she’s the abused wife of his railroad yard superior Carl (Broderick Crawford)–or that Vicki was just entangled in a jealousy-fuelled murder committed by Carl.
However, while the film posters of the era were keen to play up the steamy, femme fatale angle, Grahame is far from the usual hard-bitte, ice queen. Rather it quickly becomes clear that she is very much the victim. Although by no means an innocent, the fact that it’s she who ultimately pays the price for actions of others reinforces Lang’s pitch black themes. Not only is this is a world where women have little value beyond their physical charms but their wickedness will be the ruin of us all.
Human Desire doesn’t have the instant appeal of The Big Sleep, nor are its characters particularly appealing. But what Lang has created here is in many ways the ultimate expression of noir sensibilties: a bleak drama in which there are no good guys or bad guys, just humankind at its most brutal and uncaring.
The Masters of Cinema’s remastered edition presents one of this brilliant filmmaker’s most underrated films for the first time ever on Blu-ray. Duel format special features include an exclusive interview with film historian Tony Rayns and a 40-page collector’s booklet.