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La Bête Humaine (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

La Bête Humaine
La Bête humaine 1938 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJean Renoir
Produced byRaymond Hakim
Robert Hakim
Screenplay byJean Renoir
Denise Leblond
Based onLa Bête Humaine
1890 novel
by Émile Zola
StarringJean Gabin
Simone Simon
Music byJoseph Kosma
CinematographyCurt Courant
Edited bySuzanne de Troeye
Marguerite Renoir
Paris Film
Distributed byLux Compagnie Cinématographique de France
Paris Films Location
Release date
  • December 23, 1938 (1938-12-23) (France)
Running time
100 minutes

La Bête Humaine (English: The Human Beast and Judas Was a Woman) is a 1938 French film directed by Jean Renoir, with cinematography by Curt Courant. The picture features Jean Gabin and Simone Simon, and is loosely based on the 1890 novel La Bête humaine by Émile Zola.[1]

La Bête Humaine is partially set "on a train that may be thought of as one of the main characters in the film."[2] Although generally listed as a romantic drama, it is sometimes considered a precursor to the film noir genre.


The film opens with a quote from Zola's novel, one of his "Rougon-Mcquart" series, emphasizing a character's fate as tied to the hereditary alcoholism that runs through his family's generations. The film itself, however, represents only a portion of the novel and veers from Zola's overriding theme of naturalistic fatalism.[3]

Lantier (Jean Gabin) is a railroad engineer obsessively tied to his train, in part because his work distracts him from recurring headaches and violent rages that happen when he is with a woman and become worse when he drinks. During a stop for repairs in Le Havre, Lantier goes to his aunt's nearby village where he meets Flore (Blanchette Brunoy), a former girlfriend. The two walk and sit by the railroad tracks, but as they embrace, his hands tighten on her neck, and he is stopped from strangling her only by the sudden roar of a passing train.

Later, in Lantier's train while on a run from Paris to Le Havre, the deputy stationmaster Roubaud (Fernand Ledoux) confronts Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz), the wealthy godfather of Séverine (Simone Simon), Roubaud's wife. Roubaud kills the man, who had been having an affair with Séverine. When the murder is discovered, Lantier knows enough to convict Roubaud if he goes to the police, but Séverine, with Roubaud's encouragement, persuades him not to tell the police what he saw, and the murder is pinned on another man (played by Renoir himself).

Séverine and Roubaud are both haunted by the murder in different ways, and Séverine turns to Lantier for comfort. Meeting in secret during a rainstorm, their passion is suggested by an overflowing rain barrel as they begin an affair. While Roubaud has lapsed into depression following the murder, Séverine tells Lantier that her husband will eventually kill her and suggests that Lantier strike first.

Lantier is unable to carry out an attack on Roubaud, but when Séverine at her home tells him that she will leave him, he agrees to try again. Just then, the couple hear a noise and think that Roubaud is approaching. Lantier has one of his seizures and kills Séverine. Returning to his train for another run to Paris, he confesses to his assistant, Pecqeaux (Julien Carette) but then attacks him, finally leaping from the moving train to his death. After stopping the engine, Pecqeaux remarks Lantier now looks more peaceful than he had for a long time.



Jean Gabin wanted to star in a film about locomotives and wrote a screenplay called Train d'Enfer, that was originally to be directed by Jean Grémillon.[4] Dissatisfied with the script, Grémillon suggested an adaptation of La Bête humaine. After his success starring in Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937), Gabin preferred to work with Jean Renoir again, and hired him instead of Grémillon. Renoir eventually wrote the script over a period of eight to fifteen days.[4] (Renoir said it took him twelve days in the introduction to the movie). After its completion, Renoir read the screenplay to Gabin's producer Robert Hakim, who asked for "trifling modifications".[4]

Renoir confessed that at the time when he wrote the screenplay, he had not read Zola's novel in over 25 years: "While I was shooting, I kept modifying the scenario, bringing it closer to Zola ... the dialogue which I gave Simone Simon is almost entirely copied from Zola's text. Since I was working at top speed, I'd re-read a few pages of Zola every night, to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything."[4]

Filming commenced on August 12, 1938, with exteriors on the Gare Saint-Lazare and at Le Havre.[4] Due to running time restrictions, Renoir had to omit several celebrated occurrences from the novel.[5]


Critical response

Frank S. Nugent, film critic for The New York Times, gave the film a positive review even though he felt uncomfortable watching the film, writing:

It is hardly a pretty picture, dealing as it does with a man whose tainted blood subjects him to fits of homicidal mania, with a woman of warped childhood who shares her husband's guilty secret of murder... It is simply a story; a macabre, grim and oddly-fascinating story. Sitting here, a safe distance from it, we are not at all sure we entirely approve of it or of its telling. Its editing could have been smoother—which is another way of saying that Renoir jerks his camera, jumps a bit too quickly from scene to scene, doesn't always make clear why his people are behaving as they do. But sitting here is not quite the same as sitting in the theatre watching it. There we were conscious only of constant interest and absorption tinged with horror and an uncomfortable sense of dread. And deep down, of course, ungrudged admiration for Renoir's ability to seduce us into such a mood, for the performances which preserved it.[6]




  1. ^ La bête humaine at IMDb.
  2. ^ Bogdonovitch, Peter. Interview on special features of the Criterion Collection imprint.
  3. ^ Johnston, Ian (November 1, 2006). "Train to Nowhere: On Renoir's La Bete Humaine". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved November 21, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e Durgnat, R., Jean Reinoir (1974), p. 172. ISBN 0-520-02283-1
  5. ^ Durgnat, R., Jean Renoir (1974), p. 174. ISBN 0-520-02283-1
  6. ^ Nugent, Frank S. The New York Times, film review, "Zola's The Human Beast Comes to 55th Street as a Somber and Powerful French Film by Jean Renoir," February 20, 1940. Last accessed: December 30, 2007.

Further reading

  • Tibbetts, John C., and James M. Welsh, eds. The Encyclopedia of Novels Into Film (2nd ed. 2005) pp 30–31.

External links

This page was last edited on 23 January 2021, at 21:58
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