Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Noir Watch: Human Desire (1954)

weird.  I used that same tag line in my wedding vows.

Watched:  09/20/2021
Format:  Noir Alley on TCM 
Viewing:  Second
Decade:  1950's
Director:  Fritz Lang

First - this episode of Noir Alley was hosted by Eddie Muller and actor Dana Delaney, and what a goddamn delight.  Delaney has a presence and intellect that fits in perfectly with the TCM vibe.  She's a total cool kid who knows her stuff.  This wasn't, as happens on TCM from time to time, some actor wandering in who kinda-sorta likes a topic or film.  She wrote articles on Gloria Grahame for this quarter's Noir City magazine - so she was more than a bit prepared.  And, as long as she's Dana Delaney, she's going to be great talking about any topic.

Human Desire (1954) has enough elements going for it that it's totally watchable, but there's a reason I haven't returned to it til now.  Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame star.  It's directed by Fritz Lang.  There's a budget behind it.  You can do worse than Broderick Crawford.  My memory of it was the last act sort of falls apart, and before the movie opened, Delaney basically explained why:  I guess they totally rewrote the last act from the book and French movie it was based upon, and for some reason give Glenn Ford's character a moral high ground he hasn't earned and Graham's character is totally thrown to the wolves despite this making no sense in the film.  

Ford plays an ex-soldier, returning from Korea to his job as a rail engineer, who thinks he's picking up the life he left off, including in noir-terms "the virginal girl who waited" who went from supposed pigtails to thirsty 20-something.  Grahame is the unlikely wife of Broderick Crawford, who - when Crawford is fired, goes to the head of the company who she once knew, and asks for his job back.

This is where it's actually kind of shocking that the movie was made in the 1950's - she clearly but codedly - trades sex for the reinstatement of her husband's job.  Crawford, realizing this is what happened, goes nuts and... blames her?  But, also, murders the guy on a train.  A set of circumstances mean Grahame has to draw Ford away from the train car, and the two - despite all reason and logic - begin an affair. 

Which, you know, it's noir.  "Against reason and logic starting an affair" is how the genre works.  


What doesn't make sense is that - I suspect - the Hayes Code was fine with the infidelity in the film because the studio decided to end it with Grahame dead.  Murdered by her husband.  For which he'll finally get his just desserts.  But it's not just a little iffy on the fictional scales of morality and justice by which we tend to want to judge a movie's success or failure, but it just feels like the writers fell asleep at the wheel.

We find out over the course of the film that Grahame has been victimized her entire life, and the minute she shows an ounce of ability to live her own life, she gets killed.  Yeah, yeah, she wanted Ford to bump off her husband, but he's too damn noble...  Admittedly, if he had, it seems the movie would be returning to the mid-point of Double Indemnity, and it's way too late for that.  And it's not like, by 1954, we hadn't seen movies where *everyone* is dead of f***ed by movie's end, keeping the Hayes Office happy-ish.

It doesn't mean I think anyone is bad in the movie.  Grahame has a lot to do, and it's a grim joy watching her sort through all her angles.  Ford is his usual smooth self, reaching for something he shouldn't.  And Crawford is a buyable loser who lucked into one thing in his life that he shouldn't of had - Grahame - and it dooms him.

But Grahame's sorta heelturn - or at least the fact the movie turns on her - is such an odd fit, and the polish on Ford so out of left field...  You've just seen better movies featuring all of these actors, and certainly better movies directed by Lang.

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