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Year: 1954

Director: Fritz Lang

Cast: Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford

Wanting to cash in on the success of Lang’s The Big Heat which had been released the previous year, Columbia had the great director re-team Grahame and Ford in another film noir called Human Desire. Personally speaking, I think Renoir’s La Bete Humaine w/ Jean Gabin is a better movie from the same book but it doesn’t have Grahame now does it? In this noir, GG plays her most twisted, depraved, and amoral femme fatale. Vicki Buckley is the wife of Carl (Broderick Crawford) and they have a brutal marriage. Carl is abusive and he lacks any urbanities whatsoever. As we find out from their arguments, it appears that Grahame’s character only married Carl because he had a good job @ the railroad and she had no other outs. It’s a decision she’s come to regret since.

Glenn Ford plays our protagonist in the film, Jeff Warren. Mr. Warren is a Korean War veteran who has come back to his sleepy hometown to re-claim his job as a railroad engineer. Jeff encounters Vicki a couple of times in town and her hotness cannot be denied. He asks around about who she is and he is intrigued by the hushed tones and curt responses he gets from his friends.

Crawford’s character screws up @ work by offending a customer and his blustery behavior costs him his job. Desperate and feeling emasculated, Carl pleads with his wife to go see wealthy industrialist Mr. Owens — played by Grandon Rhodes — to make his case and save his position. Mr. Buckley has seemingly bought the story his wife gave him re: how she knows Owens so well. Vicki claims that he is an old family friend that was very fond of her as a child. Is her husband actually asking his wife to bang this guy? Carl dances around any clarification but the implication is clear: do whatever it takes. The whole time Vicki is w/ Owens her spouse is seething in anger and jealousy. Upon her return, she informs him that Owens called in a marker and got him reinstated. His angry interrogation into what happened and what took so long quickly escalates into an ugly fight that gets physical.

Vicki begins seeing her new sugar daddy on the side and a suspicious Carl catches them on a train together. Crazed and out of control, Mr. Buckley kills the industrialist right in front of his wife. Surprisingly, Mrs. Buckley is quick to recover and help her husband figure a way out of their mess. Jeff is off-duty and happens to be on the same train bound for Chicago as the Buckleys. Looking to dispose of the body, Carl sees that Ford’s engineer is the only person in the car that would be able to see him pull the murdered industrialist through the door and out of sight. He orders Vicki to go flirt with him as a distraction. Jeff and Grahame’s less-than-reputable housewife hit it off quickly even resulting in a passionate kiss.

When the body is found it comes out in the police investigation that the Buckleys were in the train car adjacent to the murder victim. Jeff is called as a witness and reluctantly lies under oath to protect Vicki. He clearly is whipped. They begin a torrid affair and Jeff grows angrier as his lover tells stories and provides evidence of Carl’s mistreatment. Talk snowballs into discussion of murder. The film’s protagonist is so high off Vicki’s fumes that he contemplates ridding her of the brutish Carl. After all, he killed men in Korea. Why would this be harder?

I won’t reveal anything more about how Human Desire plays out. What’s left to be said are more thoughts on what makes Vicki tick. Yes, she’s being abused by her husband. But in their scenes together, Mrs. Buckley is no frightened mouse. She’s right in her spouse’s face taunting him and challenging his manhood. The psychology of her character is difficult to grasp. At times she is even what you’d call passive agressive, pushing all the right buttons that will set off the volatile Carl. By the end of the picture, the viewer has to believe that Grahame’s sinister femme fatale is incapable of loving anyone.

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Truth be told, my primary Christmas wish this year is for the Denver Broncos to make the playoffs. But in keeping within the obscure classics theme on this site, I have another which is more appropriate. Being a huge fan of Max Ophuls’ The Earrings of Madame de… (1953), I’ve eagerly awaited a proper R1 release of the great director’s rare attempt at a film noir: The Reckless Moment (1949). I’ve heard nothing but good things about the picture and I’m dying to give it a go. Ophuls’ movie stars James Mason and Joan Bennett, two icons of cinema and they’re both among my favorite actors. Reckless marks Bennett’s first matriarch role following a career defined by intriguing single women characters. I wish Sony would get it together and satisfy my request.

I would be lying if I named any picture other than It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) as my favorite Christmas-themed movie. Stewart’s performance is incredible and the scenes between him and Gloria Grahame are splendid. A beautiful story for any time of year, it never fails to lift my spirits when I’m down.

Two other choices that are not so obvious are Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and Holiday Affair (1949). The former is a screwball comedy starring the great Barbara Stanwyck — Babs is my favorite actress) — and the latter is a sweet romance I’ve only recently discovered. The film stars the always fascinating Robert Mitchum and an uber gorgeous Janet Leigh. She’s never looked better on the silver screen. It’s only recently been released on dvd so you won’t have to wait to see it aired on TCM. Give it a spin this holiday season.

By James White

Year: 1947

Director: Edward Dmytryck

Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame

Crossfire starts with a fight seen only in shadows on the wall. A man is killed but you don’t know who, and you don’t know who the murderer is. Crossfire is filmed as a fairly standard murder mystery, someone is murdered and the wrong person is blamed. As the investigation continues the real killer is eventually identified and caught. Seems pretty standard, right? As the story unfolds you will see that the real story here is one of bigotry and religious intolerance. A topic that was never attempted before (Gentleman’s Agreement was released later the same year).

Captain Finlay, (Robert Young) is investigating the murder of Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) a Jew who met up with the wrong people. The suspects are soldiers just returned from the war. Among them are Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and George Cooper. As the story unfolds with each soldier telling his version of the story it slowly becomes clear as to who the killer is. But that is not the point as you will know by now.

The film was done on a low budget because no one felt there was an audience for this kind of picture. In the end, the film not only made money but was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, (Edward Dmytryk), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Ryan) and Best Supporting Actress (Gloria Grahame).

Dmytryk has said that he used the film noir style because it was cheap and they had no budget, and noir required less lighting. True story or not, the use of low lighting, dark streets, cheap hotels and shadows created a noir classic.

Robert Young holds his own amongst some heavyweight company, but its Robert Ryan who provides a classic performance as the sadistic bigot Montgomery. Ryan, of course would go on to play a long assorted list of vicious characters in his career. Interesting enough Robert Mitchum is given a supporting role in this film even though by now he was a star. Crossfire was produced by RKO Pictures who Mitchum was under contract to and probably was forced to do the film, even if the role was not the lead. Gloria Grahame is on screen for only six to eight minutes but gives a tremendous performance as a dance hall girl, who spends time with Mitchell (George Cooper) the soldier who is at first incorrectly identified as the killer. From what I have read, Grahame, who has an abusive husband on screen, was going through a similar situation in real life and that may have led to some added authenticity that otherwise might have been missing.
Either way she is fantastic as usual. In the short, that accompanies the film on the DVD, it’s mentioned that Dmytryk used different lens when filming Robert Ryan. In the beginning, he used a standard 50mm lens showing Ryan’s character as normal. Later on he used a 40mm and still later, a 35mm and finally a 25mm on Ryan so he could reflect the distorted craziness of Ryan’s character, Montgomery. Crossfire is a film not to be missed.

By John Greco

Year: 1954

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Glen Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford

Sometimes I wonder as I watch an old movie how they got past the censors of the day. Human Desire is one of those movies. This is one of the most sexually charged, gritty and explicit films from the 1950s that I have seen in a long time.

The plot follows a young train engineer who has just recently returned from the military. This engineer, played by Glenn Ford, returns to his old job and while catching up with friends finds one of his prior colleagues has done very well for himself financially and is now married to a much younger woman named Vicki Buckley (played by Gloria Grahame). He soon starts to discover that there is something suspicious going on between them and as he starts to uncover more and more he also becomes more and more interested in his old friend’s wife. Soon, the family he rents a room from and lives with, including a young daughter who has matured into a woman while he was away, start to notice his absence night after night as well as many phone calls between him and Vicki Buckley.

All the actors in this film did a fantastic job portraying their parts. Gloria Grahame and Broderick Crawford especially stand out as the newly married couple. Gloria Grahame who I recently saw in In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart appears to be a real chameleon and a very accomplished actress. Her performance is fantastic. She straddles the line of sympathetic victim and ominous temptress perfectly always leaving the audience somewhat off balance, but completely riveted at the same time.

Her husband, played by Broderick Crawford is also perfect for his part. His character is gruff and intimidating but also jealous and insecure which must have been a difficult blend of emotions to characterize.

This movie was also very interesting in how it gave a fresh take on the femme fatale as well as its exploration of male-female relationships.

Visually speaking this is a very enjoyable movie to watch as it masterfully sets the mood through the cinematography, including the use of light and dark. Certain frames are so dark one can hardly make out anything until a perfectly timed splash of light illuminates the frame and furthers the story.

This is a great character driven story about the darkest of human desires.

By Greg Dickson