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Film / Human Desire

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Human Desire is a 1954 film directed by Fritz Lang, starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Broderick Crawford. It is based on Émile Zola's novel, La Bête humaine, which had already been adapted by Jean Renoir in 1938 (La Bête Humaine).

Jeff Warren (Ford) fought in The Korean War. He is back home and he resumes his work as a train engineer. His friend and colleague Alec Simmons often puts him up. Alec's daughter, Ellen, has a crush on Jeff. Meanwhile, Buckley (Crawford), another employee of the train company, is fired. To get his job back, he persuades his wife Vicki (Grahame) to meet Owens, an old acquaintance of hers and a big customer of the company, who could pressure Buckley's boss into hiring him back.

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Human Desire provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Buckley drinks more and more over the course of the film. He even gets fired a second time because of that.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Vicki and Buckley after Vicki met Owens. Buckley is violent with her and Vicki understandably does not want to have sex with him any more.
  • Betty and Veronica: Two girls try to charm Jeff Warren (Archie): Girl Next Door Ellen (Betty) and Femme Fatale Vicki (Veronica), a married woman involved in a murder case, who often lies to him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jeff has ended a toxic relationship with Vicki and he will start a positive relationship with Ellen, but Vicki is killed by Buckley.
  • Bookends: In the first scene and in the last scene, Jeff and Alec are driving a train together.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Buckley's knife. On the way out, he carelessly uses it to cut a piece of wood. On the way back, he murders Owens with it.
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  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Buckley. He kills Owens because he suspects that his wife had sex with him. In the end, he even kills Vicki, because she is leaving him.
  • Descent into Addiction: Over the course of the film, Buckley becomes an alcoholic. He also gets more and more violent with his wife. In the end, he kills her.
  • Domestic Abuse: Buckley beats his wife Vicki. He also blackmails her to force her to stay with him: he threatens to disclose a compromising letter. In the end, he kills Vicki, because she is leaving him.
  • Femme Fatale: Vicki. At first, she lies to Jeff about her involvement in Owens's murder. Then, she tries to persuade him to murder Buckley.
  • The Film of the Book: It is based on Émile Zola's novel, La Bête humaine.
  • Frameup: Buckley threatens to frame Vicki up for the murder of Owens. Therefore, he keeps a compromising letter that she wrote.
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  • Irony: Situational irony: Buckley wants Vicki to meet Owens to get his job back. Just after the meeting, he is hired again, but the ultimate consequences of this meeting (his growing jealousy, his bad relationship with Vicki, then his addiction to alcohol) will lead to his second dismissal.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Vicki is married with Buckley. Buckley asks her to meet her former lover, Owens. Owens and Vicki have sex when they meet.
    • Both Ellen and Vicki try to charm Jeff.
    • Vicki is married to Buckley, but she has a relationship with Jeff.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: After Buckley killed Owens, Vicki withholds sex from him because he refuses to destroy the compromising letter.
  • Mal Mariée: Vicki is much younger than her husband. She is unhappy. He is jealous. He blackmails her to force her to stay with him.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse:
    • Buckley kills Owens, because he had sex with his wife Vicki.
    • Jeff considers killing Buckley, the husband of his mistress. Subverted because he does not dare to do it.
  • Setting Update: Zola's novel was set in France in the 19th century. The film is set in the US in the 1950's.
  • Sexual Extortion: It is implied that Owens agreed to help Buckley to get his job back on the condition that Vicki, his former lover, had a sexual intercourse with him.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Jeff's reaction when he meets Ellen again after his return from The Korean War.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Buckley (Broderick Crawford) and Vicki (Gloria Grahame). Everybody notices that Vicki is much younger than him.
  • Wrench Whack: In the end, Jeff considers killing Buckley with a monkey wrench.

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