This essay reads the Fritz Lang film noir, Human Desire (1954) as an intertextual reworking of La Bete humaine (Jean Renoir, 1938), in turn an adaptation of Emile Zola's eponymous novel (1890). I argue that whereas Renoir's film worries about the impending World War II, Lang's grapples with the noir legacy of a post-war world devoid of hope. This traps Zola's novel in a middle ground: the novel is set on the brink of the French destruction in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, but is written twenty years afterward.