Lets dig into, Human Desire. Following the release of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), director Fritz Lang – master of the German Expressionism Cinema movement in the silent era – had fled Germany and found his way to America following a brief stop in France to direct Liliom (1934). After his Hollywood debut feature Fury (1936), Lang settled in and would find his Expressionistic style would spectacularly lend itself well the burgeoning film noir genre, particularly with Hangmen Also Die! (1943), Ministry of Fear, The Woman in the Window (both 1944), Scarlet Street (1945), Secret Beyond the Door (1948) and House by the River (1950). For the follow up to one of his best American films, The Big Heat (1953), Lang brought over some of the main principals of the cast and crew for Human Desire, the third film version – and first in America – of Émile Zola’s novel La Bete humaine. Previously released on DVD by Columbia/Sony as part of the Film Noir Classics Vol. 2 DVD box set in 2010, Kino has licensed the movie from Sony for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4/5
Central National Railroad train engineer Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) may have just returned home from serving his country in the Korean War, but he’s about to find himself in someone else’s private war. That war is one being waged by the extremely possessive and jealous Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford), a former railroad yard supervisor determined to keep his younger wife Vicki (Gloria Grahame) by his side, even murdering a man from her past to do so. When Jeff gets roped into the ensuing investigation, he falls in love with Vicki, and she tries to enlist him in doing away with the brutish Carl. He does agree, but this affair has an unexpected twist no one in this love triangle saw coming…
Coming off the heels of his noir masterpiece The Big Heat, Human Desire represents Fritz Lang at his darkest in the genre. Remade from Jean Renoir’s 1938 film La Bête humaine – which, in turn, was the film adaptation of Émile Zola’s eponymous 1890 novel – the movie transports the action from Paris to post-WWII America, giving the plot (scripted by Alfred Hayes) a much darker tone than the poetic realism that marked Renoir’s adaptation. Lang’s direction is top notch here and he has the contributions of cinematographer Burnett Guffey at his disposal here to create a foreboding and moody atmosphere; he also has his two leads from The Big Heat as well to help execute the plot (more about their performances coming up). As well directed as it is, the movie does suffer from some occasional muddying of pace, but Lang’s strong sense of visual style does help to smooth over some of the slower patches. So, while it might be a little lower in stature compared to Renoir’s more noted adaptation, Human Desire is still one of Fritz Lang’s more solid entries in the film noir genre; he would make two more excursions in the genre before departing Hollywood.
Cast by Lang again in the lead – like he was in The Big Heat – Glenn Ford is solid as Jeff, the main in a pinch when he gets entangled in the affairs of Vicki and Carl; while this would be his last Golden Age noir with Columbia, he would return the genre at the studio years later with Blake Edwards’ neo-noir thriller Experiment in Terror (1962). Fresh off of a recent Academy Award win in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Gloria Grahame – a frequent face in the noir genre, and on the receiving end of a scalding hot coffee facial treatment from Lee Marvin in The Big Heat – makes a memorable Vicki, who desired love in the worst way possible; she would make two more noirs in the genre’s Golden Age: Stanley Kramer’s directorial debut film Not As a Stranger (1955) and Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). As the hot-headed Carl, Broderick Crawford returns to his roots playing the heavy convincingly here; he would make a few more noirs – notably in Big House U.S.A. (1955) – before a sojourn acting in Europe and television came calling in the form of Federico Fellini’s Il Bidone and the series Highway Patrol, respectively. Rounding out the cast here are Edgar Buchanan as Jeff’s co-worker and former landlord Alec, Kathleen Case as Alec’s daughter Ellen (who’s also smitten with Jeff), Diane DeLaire as Alec’s wife Vera and Grandon Rhodes as the ill-fated John Owens, killed at the hands of the insanely jealous Carl.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:78:1 aspect ratio for this release, taken from an HD transfer very likely done by Sony Pictures. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are all presented faithfully with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present. Overall, this Blu-ray release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and surpasses the previous DVD release of the movie.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Daniele Amfitheatrof’s music score are all presented with clarity with minor cases of distortion, clicking, flutter, popping, hissing or crackling present on the track. All in all, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and bests the film’s previous DVD release.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Terror and Desire with Emily Mortimer (9:38) – The actress – the daughter of writer John Mortimer – shares her appreciation of the movie, particularly the acting performances, in this archival featurette from the Film Noir Collection: Vol. 2 DVD set from 2010.
Theatrical Trailer (1:57)
Although a step below his preceding film The Big Heat, Human Desire does showcase Fritz Lang at his most stylish in the noir genre that make it worth a look. Kino has done a decent job bringing the movie to Blu-ray, with a solid HD transfer and carrying over the appreciation featurette from the film’s previous DVD release. Highly recommended and worth upgrading from said DVD.
Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.
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