Monday, November 19, 2018
Human Desire (1954)
The first surprise is that Lang opens his movie in exactly the same way. The opening of Renoir’s movie is a visual tour-de-force, an extended dialogue-free sequence involving trains and railway tracks and setting up the relationship of the hero to the trains he loves so much. The images are magnificent, and for Lang to open his film in exactly the same way was a very brave thing to do. While it’s not quite as impressive, Lang gets away with it.
The stories in the two films run mostly in parallel until the ending. Jeff (Glenn Ford) has returned from the Korean War to his job as a train engineer. He becomes involved with the wife (Gloria Grahame) of the assistant yard manager, and a witness to what appears to be a murder.
The biggest change is in the personality of the hero. Jean Gabin as Lantier has a darkness within him, but Lang admitted he was forced to make Jeff a much more conventional hero. Glenn Ford is no Jean Gabin anyway, but he has little to work with. In some ways that perhaps suited Lang’s purpose. It makes Jeff a complete victim of fate.
Fortunately Grahame is equal to the task. Her performance is so good that the viewer, like Jeff, is never quite sure how much of what she’s telling him is the complete truth, an embellished version of the truth, or complete fabrication. The frustrating thing for us, and for him, is that there is certainly a considerable element of truth in her story.
Lang’s movie though is Lang’s movie, not Renoir’s, it reflects Lang’s concerns, and if you’re prepared to judge it on its own merits it’s a fine example of late American film noir. Highly recommended.