Human Desire (1954)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Film Noir  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Although it's not one of his noir masterworks, this grim tale of infidelity and blackmail provides a reminder that even Fritz Lang's workaday efforts remain vivid and compelling. Updated for the conformist '50s and relocated to the fringes of working-class Middle America by screenwriter Alfred Hayes, Emile Zola's source material retains its sordid tone and tragic scope. As with many thrillers, the emphasis is on an intricate plot driven by the basest of human motivations. The script does get a little heavy-handed in its attempt to contrast the wholesome family life of Glenn Ford's everyman protagonist with the shadowy world into which he finds himself drawn. But this fissure provides enough emotional weight and moral subtext to give the potentially tawdry material a broader scope. Fresh off his Oscar for From Here to Eternity, cinematographer Burnett Guffey evokes the spiritual desolation of the characters with melancholy shots of train yards at night. Small-town Americana and the corruption of the big city remain connected by the power of the locomotive. Compact and evocative, Human Desire proves aptly titled: a simple allegory, but a memorable one.