Nov 14, 2014

Noirvember: Femme Fatale Friday - Gloria Grahame in HUMAN DESIRE (1954)

Gloria Grahame in Human Desire is a woman thrust into the Femme Fatale role by her boorish husband played by Broderick Crawford. He's an older man (there is a lot of discussion about older men with younger women in this picture) that is prone to temper tantrums, heavy drinking and jealous outbursts when it comes to his much younger wife. She's a seemingly vulnerable, sexy woman who is trapped in a thankless marriage with a man who physically and verbally abuses her as well as anyone who comes between them. As we will soon find out it is his actions that inadvertently thrusts her into the arms of good guy Glenn Ford.

Gloria Grahame shows Broderick Crawford - and more importantly us - a whole lot of leg
Grahame's sexual allure is transmitted blatantly to the audience during her first scene with Crawford. He's been fired from his job at the railroad (also where Ford works) and sits morosely on a bed while Grahame flashes him some leg mere inches from his face while showing off a new pair of stockings she has acquired. That leg really stands out as Grahame remains in that position for a long period of screen time, and Crawford barely registers it as he is stewing about his bleak employment situation. We on the other hand, can't keep our eyes off it. That stocking moment really sticks in the audience's mind as later she is seen pulling off those stockings, then in another sequence as she gets up from the floor, the line of those stockings are clearly seen on her legs for a flash. You may be thinking this obsession over the stockings is some sort of perverted quirk in my personality, but in my defense I am claiming that it's director's Fritz Lang's way of having Grahame seduce us as she does Ford in the picture and planting that sexual allure in our minds.

Gloria Grahame's sweater is working its magic on Glenn Ford
Grahame is going to need to flash more than some leg to get Ford to pull off her dirty deeds for her. Ford has a younger woman literally throwing herself at him from the moment she lays eyes on him (again, older man, younger woman dynamics at play here) yet he doesn't seem to clue into this at all. So what does Grahame do to lure him in completely? She happily pulls down her top to show bruises on her shoulder from a beating that Crawford gave her earlier, promoting herself as a 'damsel in distress' (which she is) and Ford is hooked. Grahame has this way of portraying vulnerability that is hard to resist, and we want her to be with Ford even though she is a married woman and it will mean trouble for Ford.

Broderick Crawford, Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford
As I mentioned, Crawford has driven her into the Femme Fatale position thanks to his unreasonable behavior and criminal actions. First he forces her to travel with him and to convince a railway executive (and close friend of hers) to get him his job back - which she does. However she takes 5 hours to do it and it's obvious to Crawford that she went the extra mile to get him that job back. Grahame didn't even want to go in the first place so in our minds Crawford has nobody to blame but himself for this betrayal. In a jealous rage Crawford beats Grahame viciously then decides to do the unthinkable and kills the executive while traveling home by train. He forces Grahame to write a note that implicates her as the murderer, then holds that note over her as blackmail so that she won't even think of ever leaving him. When he sees Ford smoking near the scene of the crime, he sends Grahame out to divert him away so he can make his getaway. By doing so, he has once again unwittingly set himself up for betrayal from his young wife who Ford is taken with and they kiss before they parting ways. Ford finds out quickly that she is married to Crawford and later lies - without prodding - to keep her from being implicated in the murder. It is hard to blame Grahame for hating her husband so much when he forces her into uncompromising situations and beats her up and anyone else that even speaks to her. Gloria Grahame also might want to be careful teaming up with Glenn Ford and Fritz Lang in a Noir picture as not only does she get physically abused here, but in a previous picture, The Big Heat (1953), she gets a pot of hot coffee thrown in her face. Lang sure knows how to make Grahame the perfect Noir victim and bring out that vulnerability she relayed so well. She is a woman that the audience sympathizes with easily.

Gloria Grahame drives Broderick Crawford insane with jealousy
Grahame has a scene with Ford that makes it crystal clear why she was attracted to the lout Crawford in the first place. When Ford fails to capitalize on something (and I can't get into what without completely spoiling the picture) she goes after his 'manhood'. She also has a speech about a past attraction to someone that was a much older man with influence and money, and how she tried to get him to notice her and when he did, that changed everything for her. Grahame likes men who are men, and Crawford has all the bad characteristics of a man. He has a temper, he's possessive and when his position as a 'man' is threatened (like when he loses his job, or his beautiful wife cheats on him) he uses violence and blackmail to get his way. He has gone way too far into his primal male state and now she's trapped. He's an easy man to hate and seeing how Glenn Ford has treated the other young woman, you know he'd be better for her. Is she good for him?

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford's not-so-secret secret affair
I was rooting for Grahame through most of the picture, that is until she veers into full-fledged Fatale mode. She's beautiful, and no matter how 'easy' it ends up she may be, she doesn't deserve to be beaten nor blackmailed for a murder she did not commit. You desperately want her to get away from Crawford, and almost side with her when she introduces her 'solution' to Ford so that they can be together. Ford is such a nice guy that he makes a rare decision for a smitten male in a Film Noir picture, a move that turns the tide of audience opinion against Grahame's character. By making Crawford so violent and almost caveman-like, it really helps in director Lang's presentation of having Grahame not only seduce Glenn Ford, but us the audience as well. It worked on me.

Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford take their relationship to the next level
When offered the choice between good girl Kathleen Case or sultry Femme Fatale Gloria Grahame, it is not hard to see how Glenn Ford was easily taken in by the latter's charms. Case has the 1950s chaste, we'll-get-married-have-2-kids-white-picket-fence-will-have-dinner-ready-when-he-comes-home vibe while Grahame holds the promise of excitement, nightclubs and sex that will occur frequently and probably well BEFORE marriage. Even just a quick introduction to Grahame's female friend in the city tells you what kind of crowd she associates with, the friend is also a stunning blonde in a tight evening gown trying to land herself a rich husband. However Grahame is doomed and a lost cause whether she deserves it or not and if Ford does end up with her (which I won't reveal) he would be dooming himself as well.