La Bête Humaine (film)

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La Bête Humaine
La Bête humaine 1938 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean Renoir
Produced by Raymond Hakim
Robert Hakim
Screenplay by Jean Renoir
Denise Leblond
Based on the novel La Bête Humaine
by Émile Zola
Starring Jean Gabin
Simone Simon
Music by Joseph Kosma
Cinematography Curt Courant
Edited by Suzanne de Troeye
Marguerite Renoir
Paris Film
Distributed by Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France
Paris Films Location
Release date
  • December 23, 1938 (1938-12-23) (France)
Running time
100 minutes
Country France
Language French

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 novel of the same name 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 solitary Lantier, who drives a locomotive between Paris and Le Havre, is liable to go into a murderous fit if alone with a woman he desires. He only feels secure when driving the train with his fireman Pecqueux. However, he cannot fail to notice Séverine, the sexy wife of Roubaud, the deputy stationmaster at Le Havre.

In the past she had had an affair with the rich and influential Grandmorin. The jealous Roubaud forces her to meet Grandmorin on a train, There he robs and kills his rival, but by chance the off-duty Lantier is a witness. Because he is attracted to Séverine, he says nothing to the police, for which one night she rewards him. Then she starts suggesting to Lantier that he should get rid of her husband, but he fails the test. Instead, calling on her one night, he has a fit and kills her. Next day, after confessing to Pecqueux, he jumps to his death from the speeding train.


  • Jean Gabin as Jacques Lantier
  • Simone Simon as Séverine Roubaud
  • Fernand Ledoux as Roubaud (as Ledoux Sociétaire de la Comédie Française)
  • Blanchette Brunoy as Flore
  • Gérard Landry as Le fils Dauvergne
  • Jenny Hélia as Philomène Sauvagnat
  • Colette Régis as Victoire Pecqueux
  • Claire Gérard as Une voyageuse
  • Charlotte Clasis as Tante Phasie, la marraine de Lantier
  • Jacques Berlioz as Grandmorin
  • Tony Corteggiani as Dabadie, le chef de section
  • André Tavernier as Le juge d'instruction Denizet
  • Marcel Pérès as Un lampiste
  • Jean Renoir as Cabuche
  • Julien Carette as Pecqueux


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.[3] 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.[3] (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".[3]

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."[3]

Filming commenced on August 12, 1938, with exteriors on the Gare Saint-Lazare and at Le Havre.[3] Due to running time restrictions, Renoir had to omit several celebrated occurrences from the novel.[4]


Critical response[edit]

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.[5]




  1. ^ La bête humaine on IMDb.
  2. ^ Bogdonovitch, Peter. Interview on special features of the Criterion Collection imprint.
  3. ^ a b c d e Durgnat, R., Jean Reinoir (1974), p. 172. ISBN 0-520-02283-1
  4. ^ Durgnat, R., Jean Renoir (1974), p. 174. ISBN 0-520-02283-1
  5. ^ 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.

External links[edit]