Human Desire, Le Bete Humaine By Zola

Human Desire, 1954 Original Half Sheet

Human Desire

Zola’s 1890 novel, La Bete Humaine, inspired two murderous film adaptations starring two of my ultimate super faves: Jean Gabin and Gloria Grahame. Too bad they weren’t in the same film.

Personally, I prefer the dark, steamy, gloomy, life is s*%t version filmed on location in Paris by Renoir in 1938 on the eve of World War II. Yes, I agree with the Criterati on this one. Jean Renoir rules.

Jean Renoir’s 1930 version

In the opening sequence Gabin is as filthy and shiny with sweat as the giant steam engine he pilots down the winding tracks and tunnels (yes, it is so suggestive). He even names his train, La Lison. Back at the station, he takes a shower. Hot stuff.

Gabin, France’s greatest cinema “Lover”, and America’s inspiration for Pepe le Pew, is so provocative he can carry scenes on facial expressions alone. In this classic, he’s got the plot, the director and the cinematographer. He even has the coolest googles and the most awesome black raincoat you have ever seen. But what Gabin is missing is the right Femme Fatale. Simone Simon is a stunner. A super Kitty. But a rail road wife? She looks like she just finished a fitting at Printemps. What this movie needs is. . .

Gloria Grahame. Lang’s version is stuck in neutral until Grahame appears .. .  on her back, with her legs up in the air. From this point onward, Grahame and the thuggish Crawford forge their own twisted Othello in the trainyard tragedy. Glenn Ford and the crew from Petticoat Junction seem to be visiting from some hokey tv show. Maybe the reason some of Ford’s scenes, especially with the “Good Girl”, don’t work is that Zola didn’t write them. In the book, Gabin/Ford tries to rape, then kill the nice girl from back home. Ooophs. That’s what I call a rewrite.

Gabin and La Lison

Natch Grahame gets iced in the end. Two films, two different murderers. Rewrite, Rewrite. Wait, there’s more. If you have haven’t seen it, the conclusion to La Bete Humaine is spectacular. I won’t spoil it for you all. Fritz really should have done more stealing from his old mentor.

Side Note: Gloria and Glenn kind of “shared a dressing room” during the filming of Human Desire. Like all great on set romances, (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) it unfortunately did not translate well on screen. I could only watch and splice together Gloria sulking, squirming and weedling and Gabin silently smoldering in the shadows. That would have been quite a show.


Human Desire, 1954 Original Half Sheet. Very Fine Condition. Paper backed. The little triangles are magnets holding up the poster, not flaws.

Note: The French version of the poster is in my collection.


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