After a drunken binge on the San Pablo waterfront, longshoreman Bobo fears he may have killed a man. In his uncertainty, he takes a job on an isolated bait barge. That night, he rescues ... See full summary »
Jeff Warren, a Korean War vet just returning to his railroad engineer's job, boards at the home of co-worker Alec Simmons and is charmed by Alec's beautiful daughter. He becomes attracted immediately to Vicki Buckley, the sultry wife of brutish railroad supervisor Carl Buckley, an alcoholic wife beater with a hair trigger temper and penchant for explosive violence. Jeff becomes reluctantly drawn into a sordid affair by the compulsively seductive Vicki. After Buckley is fired for insubordination, he begs her to intercede on his behalf with John Owens, a rich and powerful businessman whose influence can get him reinstated. When Buckley suspects she has used sexual favors to persuade Owens, he stabs him to death in a jealous rage in a railroad compartment. Jeff, a potential witness to the homicide, becomes an accessory after the fact. Written by
It is interesting to compare Jean Renoir's La bête humaine (1938) with Human Desire as they both are based on the same novel by French literature heavyweight Emile Zola. Whereas in Renoir's movie the train and its engineer seem to be wild beasts which have to be kept under control by tight regulations, Lang's engineer is a regular guy who has returned from the Korean war and just yearns to be back on the tracks again. He clearly wants order, regularity and predictability in his life, the very things which seem to destroy the Broderick Crawford character who appears to be the real beast in Human Desire. His counterpart in the Renoir movie is an authority figure in the railroad system who more than anything else wants to keep up a front of respectability.
Gloria Grahame's character is less a femme fatale, like cocky Simone Simon in La bête humaine, than a true victim who has suffered on the hands of different men. She really looks exhausted and seems to have given up on life. In the vain hope that war experience has awakened the beast in the train engineer, she succeeds in rousing some passion in him, but it is not enough for his murdering her husband (who really is a bad character for whom it is hard to feel any pity). The final scene very much looks like her executing a carefully planned suicide-scheme which also definitely brings down her evil husband.
Both movies show that the layer of civilization is pretty thin. Lang's Human Desire distinguishes itself for being a careful probe into the social conditions of the USA in the first part of the 1950ies which is also evident in the careful set design. On several occasions the engineer talks about his war experiences which led him to have new esteem for the merits of order and civilization. It is an important item in Human Desire. Up to you to decide if this makes it a pro or an anti war movie.
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