Human Desire Blu-ray Review

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Putting the fatal into femme fatale

by Casimir Harlow Feb 8, 2019 at 8:38 AM

  • Movies review

    Human Desire Blu-ray Review

    Human Desire Film Review

    Fritz 'Metropolis' Lang's 1954 remake of Jean Renoir's La Bête Humaine (based on the book of the same name) is a classic dark film noir with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame on top form.

    It's not without irony that the source novel, written in 1890, is regarded as a precursor to the noir genre, and that Human Desire remains a relatively late classic era example of the genre, not least in Lang's own filmography, particularly having himself delivered his own cinematic precursor to film noir with his 1931 classic, M.

    Human Desire would prove one of the last American films Lang would direct, made during the twilight period in his career, and re-teaming him with the same lead cast as his previous feature - The Big Heat - namely Ford and Grahame, with Lang crafting a classy and compelling film noir that isn't afraid of playing around with the darker side of human nature.

    Despite being the less well remembered of Lang's Ford/Grahame double teams, Human Desire is the richer of the two in terms of nuance and complexity

    The story follows Broderick Crawford's hard drinking Carl - recently fired - who asks his younger wife, Gloria Grahame's Vicki, to help him persuade an influential player in the railroad to get him his job back, setting off a chain of events that drags Glenn Ford's innocent train engineer and ex-Korean War vet, Jeff, into a sordid web of murder and lies.

    Lang was clearly a master in the genre by this point, and his two leads were also very comfortable returning to the genre after their collaboration just a year earlier on the better remembered The Big Heat, but whilst Ford will always be famous for being Ford, the interesting standout here is Grahame, who really does a tremendous job convincing at every stage - which almost universally involves absolute, cold-hearted manipulation, but is so superbly dished out that you can't help but be seduced by the performance yourself.

    After Annette Bening's recent career-high performance bringing an ageing Grahame to life in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, it's particularly interesting to see the real deal, and wonder why indeed she fell from grace in Hollywood as she's utterly fantastic here. Looking back with 2019 eyes though, it's easy to cheer for the nuanced and dark leading female performance, positing a character unafraid to use all of her feminine wiles to get her way - the kind of thing that gave birth to similar characters in modern classics like Body Heat, The Last Seduction and Basic Instinct - but it's doubtful there would have been quite as much room for that back in 1954, so perhaps that's why Grahame's star faded so quickly.

    Despite being the less well remembered of Lang's Ford/Grahame double teams, Human Desire is darker and more disturbing; the richer of the two features in terms of nuance and complexity, and highly recommended.

    Human Desire Blu-ray Picture

    Human Desire Human Desire Blu-ray Picture
    Eureka deliver Fritz Lang's 1954 noir classic Human Desire onto Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation that stands up even 66 years on, and whilst it's hardly the finest remaster you might have seen - with variable softness, fluctuating, shimmering grain and even a little damage in some scenes, it's pretty damn good for a 1954 film.

    As 66 year old movies go, it looks frequently impressive, and the flaws are entirely forgivable

    The 'stock' train footage looks particularly poor, showcasing little detail and clarity, but offering a keen juxtaposition against the much clearer filmic shots that pervade the rest of the piece, bringing nuance to even the depths of dark shadows that define this feature - it's quite literally a very dark noir. Some shots and locations - the indoor sequences, the bar rooms and offices, and even the train yard - look largely excellent, with Lang using the natural shadows to fabulous benefit as he perfectly frames some exquisitely stylish shots, but there's plenty that barely holds up, largely due to the natural filming environments and sheer low level lighting that was clearly intended to bathe the entire piece in near-darkness (evident most in the film's darkest final act). Still, as 66 year old movies go, it looks frequently impressive, and the flaws are entirely forgivable.

    Human Desire Blu-ray Sound

    Human Desire Human Desire Blu-ray Sound
    It's a great, hard to fault, representation of the audio

    The accompanying lossless Linear PCM 2.0 mono track does a superior job with the soundtrack, affording a rich representation of the haunting, sometimes sordid, sometimes seductive score that forms the backbone to the audio. Dialogue remains firmly prioritised across what is already a clearly front-dominated affair, provided clearly and coherently throughout, whilst effects comes mostly to life around the train yard, where chugging trains and rumbling machinery abounds. It's a great, hard to fault, representation of the audio.

    Human Desire Blu-ray Extras

    Human Desire Human Desire Blu-ray Extras
    In terms of extras, Eureka deliver a new Interview with film historian Tony Rayns

    Human Desire Blu-ray Verdict

    Human Desire Human Desire Blu-ray Verdict
    Eureka do another stand up job

    Eureka do another stand up job bringing Fritz Lang's re-teaming with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame to Blu-ray, with Human Desire's strong package affording the classic film noir strong video and audio and a single new and informative extra to keep this being a bare bones release.

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