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La Bête Humaine (1938)
"La bête humaine" (original title)

Not Rated  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  19 February 1940 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 4,676 users  
Reviews: 38 user | 28 critic

In this classic adaptation of Emile Zola's novel, a tortured train engineer falls in love with a troubled married woman who has helped her husband commit a murder.



(novel), (screenplay), 2 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Roubaud (as Ledoux Sociétaire de la Comédie Française)
Blanchette Brunoy ...
Gérard Landry ...
Le fils Dauvergne (as Gerard Landry)
Jenny Hélia ...
Philomène Sauvagnat (as Jenny Helia)
Colette Régis ...
Victoire Pecqueux (as Colette Regis)
Claire Gérard ...
Une voyageuse (as Claire Gerard)
Charlotte Clasis ...
Tante Phasie, la marraine de Lantier (as Germaine Clasis)
Jacques Berlioz ...
Grandmorin (as Berlioz)
Tony Corteggiani ...
Dabadie, le chef de section (as Cortegianni)
André Tavernier ...
Le juge d'instruction Denizet
Marcel Pérès ...
Un lampiste (as Perez)
Julien Carette ...
Pecqueux (as Carette)


Jacques Lantier is a train engineer who is prone to violent seizures, a condition he attributes to his forefathers' habit of excessive drinking. Roubaud is a train conductor on the same railroad that Lantier works on, married to the much younger Séverine. When Roubaud catches wind of his wife's affair with her godfather, the wealthy M. Grandmorin, he kills him during a train journey in a fit of jealousy. He makes sure that Séverine is also present, making her an accomplice to murder. Lantier, despite having witnessed them quite clearly in the train corridor, hides the fact during the investigation as he is attracted to Séverine. They both begin an affair, all the while Roubaud becomes increasingly withdrawn and starts to gamble. Séverine urges Lantier to kill her husband so that they would be free but she is unaware of Lantier's unfortunate condition. Written by Soumitra

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama | Film-Noir


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

19 February 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Human Beast  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


La Lison, the name of the locomotive, is also the name of a river (Le Lison) in eastern France, in the département of Le Doubs in the region of La Franche-Comté. See more »


Jacques Lantier: I can't go on. I can't go on.
See more »


Referenced in Meet Me on the Southbank (2013) See more »


Le coeur de Ninon
Lyrics by Maurice Nouhaud (1900)
Music by E. Becucci (from waltz "Tesoro mio")
Sung by Marcel Veyran
See more »

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User Reviews

Renoir meets Zola:up where they belong.
10 March 2002 | by See all my reviews

Jean Renoir's work has been the best of all possible cinemas in the French thirties:a ruthless bourgeois wholesale massacre (la chienne,1931,Boudu sauvé des eaux,1932),Italian neorealism ten years before Rossellini,DeSica et al(Toni,1934),cinema verité before Godard (la vie est à nous ,1936)romantic and tragic pastoral,(une partie de campagne,probably his masterpiece,1936),pacifism(la grande illusion,1937,his most overrated,thus the most popular),history (la revolution française,1938)then "la bête humaine".

"La bête humaine" is arguably the best Zola screen adaptation.Seventeenth part of the Rougon-Macquart family saga-one of the peaks of French lit in the 19th century-,this could be the best with the exceptions of "l'assommoir" and "Germinal".The hero is a son of Gervaise Macquart ,Jacques Lantier.He was not mentioned in any of the previous books,because Gervaise had only 3 children (Nana,Etienne(in Germinal) and Claude (in l'oeuvre),and Zola needed one more,so he made up this fourth child from start to finish.What he needed was a hero with a history of mental illness (stemming from alcohol).Jean Gabin portrays Jacques with a sublime conviction:the scene in which he tries to strangle Blanchette Brunoy to whom he confesses he can't help it,he can't escape the terrible fate which is in store for him.

When he meets Severine(Simone Simon,the future heroine of Tourneur's "cat people'(1942)),and is attracted by her sexually,the woman,whose husband (Fernand Ledoux) is anything but handsome, feels in deep in her perverse soul, that she's found the right killer,because she has discovered he's unable to keep his self-control .

Some scenes are absolutely unforgettable:the beginning,which films the railroad tracks as never before;the railroad men dance,during which a murder is committed while a singer is crooning an old song,"le petit coeur de Ninon";the final,faithful to Zola to a fault: a train,belting in the night,gone mad,which becomes a metaphor not only for Lantier's descent into hell,but for the country (it's 1938!) heading for the darkness.Renoir had transposed the action in th thirties.These dazzling pictures perfectly echo Zola's extraordinary lines:"Elle roulait,roulait sans fin,comme affolée de plus en plus par le bruit de son haleine"(It was rolling,endlessly rolling,as if it were more and more panic-stricken by the sound of its breath).

Remake by Fritz Lang in 1954 :"human desire" with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame;although I admire Fritz Lang very much,I think his effort is neatly inferior.

33 of 38 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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