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La bête humaine (1938)

Not Rated | | Crime, Drama | 19 February 1940 (USA)
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)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Roubaud (as Ledoux sociétaire de la Comédie-Française)
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)
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 They both begin an affair, all the while Roubaud becomes increasingly withdrawn and starts to gamble.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


From the novel "La Bete Humaine" a drama of consuming passions, directed by Jean Renoir


Crime | Drama


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

19 February 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La Bête Humaine  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Severine likes Malaga wine. Malaga is a sweet fortified wine from the Spanish city of Málaga and is made from Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grapes. See more »


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


Version of La bestia humana (1957) 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

A Link With Hollywood and American Film Noir
22 September 2006 | by See all my reviews

"La Bete Humaine" is many things------an excellent film version of an Emile Zola novel; an outstanding (if little known) work by the famous French film director, Jean Renoir; a movie that captures memorable performances by its very capable cast; probably the greatest movie to use real trains as an essential plot device ever made; and a superbly photographed drama that holds your interest from beginning to end.

But perhaps the most critical claim this movie can make is to define the basic text of the film noir femme fatale role that was to become such an important aspect of Hollywood's most innovative creations of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Simone Simon's Severine Roubaud can and should be seen as the precursor of such similar characters as Jane Greer's Kathie Moffett in the film noir classic "Out of the Past (1947)" almost ten years later. Both are highly complex characters with dangerous sexuality and a totally amoral view of life. Both make it very difficult to distinguish between truth and fiction in what they say to us. Simone Simon plays the Jean Gabin character like a well-tuned musical instrument-----and Jane Greer's Kathie is no less successful in manipulating Robert Mitchum's character. Both are beautiful, childlike at times, feminine at other times, very different than what they seem to be, seductive to an extreme and in the end---destined to experience the consequences of a life not well lived.

"La Bete Humaine" can be enjoyed on its own terms as a seminal example of great French film drama of the 1930s. However, its more important message is to give us an early illustration of the origins of Hollywood film noir's femme fatale.

Next time you wonder where all those deadly dangerous female predators came from in American film noir, check out "La Bete Humaine." For fans of the genre, it should definitely be on your must-see list.

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