Saturday, November 27, 2010

Human Desire

Trenton Makes; The World Takes All Kinds

Human Desire by Fritz Lang, 1954:

An opening exerting a fully controlled suspense — laying the track for the events to unfold, in a first-time viewing of Human Desire we won't yet have any notion of the plot specifics (unless we've read Zola's novel or seen Renoir's film of La Bête humaine) but their nature is communicated with supreme clarity: inexorable / The rails rush by, "criss cross" — Human Desire provides a lesson on the dynamics of Lang's material in contrast to Hitchcock's; the obvious reference-point for the analysis, and Lang's creation of Human Desire itself, being Strangers on a Train / Masters, angles, (inserts), angles, (inserts), masters : Old-Master cinema / Head-on into the camera affixed to the side of a moving train-car, another train blasts by, just as in Renoir's film (the shot that almost killed cameraman Claude Renoir) / Fate-lines / Back from Korea after being away three years (offensives begun in June '50, ceasefire July '53): Jeff Warren, played by Glenn Ford / Within the first ten minutes Lang surreptitiously delivers a detail that's key to the understanding of Jeff's character: he was a habitué of the finest Tokyo whorehouses / The incessant calls from the depot's loudspeakers to check in with the yardmaster: the atmosphere of another military barracks / But are the domestic spaces battlefields any less? / Vicki (Gloria Grahame) married somehow to Carl (Broderick Crawford) who has fingers like a bloated cadaver's ("He looked big,— solid, — decent. That's what I wanted most, I guess."); Vera (Diane DeLaire), Jeff's landlord's daughter all-grown-up in the last three years, mewing like a civet / And Jeff's brought her back a kimono / Little memento / The figure that she cuts / Before concupiscent satins, those earrings of the madame, attendant memories of stains, you'd spill your medals too / Vicki's friend Jean tells Carl, as she dons her evening clothes, that most men can see better than they can think — that if Vicki's late (putting in the good word for Carl with the ominous CEO Mr. Owens), it's that 6:30 is late if you're married and early if you're single — Jean tells Carl she likes her new fella because he has lots of money — that "All women are alike — they've just got different faces so that the men can tell 'em apart." / Carl beats Vicki after she all but (all but) confesses ('confesses') she, maneater Vicki/Gloria-Grahame, has sucked and fucked Owens / Beats her while the oriental figures gaze down from the wall hangings / Yoshiwara / After the two board the train, and Carl murders Owens, he pimps Vicki out to attract Warren, who's also in their car, in order to get him away from the vestibule where he's smoking so that Carl can slip past unspotted / Vicki does so, gets Jeff to follow her for a drink; Carl, back in the dead man's compartment, checks the pocketwatch he's pilfered from the corpse: everything's on timetables, just like the day Lang escaped Germany / Ambiguity around Vicki's transgression, whether or not it occurred, the letter Carl has her write to lure Owens to his doom-room will stand as the blackmail, and the evidence of a guilt... just as Warren wastes no time in planting on Vicki the fatal kiss as soon as he gets his chance, the kiss that will bring her to the end of the line — the kiss ordained by her very husband / Fabricated (manufactured + fictional) guilt / Vicki bolts / Jeff smiles and shrugs / And back waiting in Owens's compartment, Carl's knife gleams as the door goes ajar, just like Peter Lorre's blade, near-identical, in M / The room for the inquest is built like a vise, with Warren fastened tight in its grip / "If a guy has to get himself murdered, why doesn't he pick one of the airlines?" / Vicki unbuttons her blouse to reveal to Warren the marks Carl's dealt to her shoulder, then snuggles in to be comforted / Vicki: "You killed him, that ought to satisfy you." Carl: "Yeah, it should, shouldn't it." / Jeff: In war, "Death comes as sort of an accident." Vicki: "Is it difficult to kill a man? — I mean, for a soldier." Jeff: "That's what they give you medals for." / Human Desire boasts one of the finest scores in a Lang film, by Daniele Amfitheatrof, who also composed for Ophuls's La signora di tutti / Long overshadowed by Renoir's film (admittedly, a masterpiece) and Lang's preceding picture, the other Ford-Grahame vehicle The Big Heat, Human Desire can now be accessed again, with the chance that the viewer will finally understand it as one of the richest of Lang's films, perfectly paced, super-precise, psychologically complex (even transgressive in its matter-of-fact, hardly simple presentation of the variety of outlets for human desire that cross 'societal norms', be they brothels or adultery or 'significant spans of age', Lang using Glenn Ford's smirk to coerce the viewer into accepting that 'it's all good' for getting someone off), full of touches that connect the picture backward toward Metropolis as proven earlier and forward into the geographies of Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse / "I can't tell anymore whether you're lying or not and I don't care — 'cause it's finished." / Two tickets to the dance

Human Desire by Fritz Lang, 1954:


Previous pieces on Lang at Cinemasparagus:

Der müde Tod [1921]

Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod [1924]

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache [1924]

Spies [1928]

Woman in the Moon [1929]

M [1931]


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