IMDb > La Bête Humaine (1938)
La bête humaine
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La Bête Humaine (1938) More at IMDbPro »La bête humaine (original title)

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Émile Zola (novel) and
Jean Renoir (screenplay)
View company contact information for La Bête Humaine on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
19 February 1940 (USA) See more »
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. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
1 nomination See more »
User Reviews:
Renoir & Zola Make a Good Combination See more (37 total) »


  (in credits order) (complete, awaiting verification)

Jean Gabin ... Jacques Lantier

Simone Simon ... Séverine Roubaud

Fernand Ledoux ... Roubaud (as Ledoux Sociétaire de la Comédie Française)
Blanchette Brunoy ... Flore
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)

Jean Renoir ... Cabuche
Julien Carette ... Pecqueux (as Carette)
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jacques Roussel ... Commissaire Cauche (as Roussel)
Jacques Beauvais ... (uncredited)

Jacques Becker ... Un lampiste (uncredited)
Jacques B. Brunius ... Un garçon de ferme (uncredited)
Marguerite de Morlaye ... (uncredited)
Guy Decomble ... Le garde-barrière (uncredited)
Émile Genevois ... Un garçon de ferme (uncredited)
Léon Larive ... Le valet de chambre (uncredited)
Maurice Marceau ... Un mécanicien (uncredited)
Georges Péclet ... Un cheminot (uncredited)
Georges Spanelly ... Camy-Lamotte, le secrétaire de Grandmorin (uncredited)
Marcel Veyran ... Le chanteur (uncredited)

Directed by
Jean Renoir 
Writing credits
Émile Zola (novel)

Denise Leblond  dialogue (uncredited)
Jean Renoir  adaptation and dialogue (uncredited)
Jean Renoir  screenplay

Produced by
Raymond Hakim .... producer
Robert Hakim .... producer
Original Music by
Joseph Kosma  (as J. Kosma)
Cinematography by
Curt Courant 
Film Editing by
Suzanne de Troeye 
Marguerite Renoir  (as Marg. Houlet Renoir)
Production Design by
Eugène Lourié  (as Lourié)
Costume Design by
Laure Lourié (uncredited)
Production Management
Frédéric Liotier .... production supervisor
Metchikian .... unit manager
Roland Tual .... production manager
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Suzanne de Troeye .... assistant director
Claude Renoir .... assistant director (as Claude Renoir ainé)
Sound Department
Robert Teisseire .... sound engineer (as Teissere)
Camera and Electrical Department
Guy Ferrier .... assistant camera
Sam Levin .... still photographer
Jacques Natteau .... assistant camera (as Natteau)
Maurice Pecqueux .... assistant camera (as Pecqueux)
Claude Renoir Jr. .... camera operator
Alain Renoir .... assistant camera
Claude Renoir .... camera operator
Other crew
Suzanne de Troeye .... script supervisor

Production CompaniesDistributorsOther Companies

Additional Details

Also Known As:
"La bête humaine" - France (original title)
See more »
100 min
Aspect Ratio:
1.37 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Finland:K-16 | France:U (Visa #789) | Germany:6 (DVD rating) | Italy:16+ | Netherlands:18 (original rating) (1939) (passed with cuts) | Spain:18 | Sweden:15 | UK:PG | USA:Not Rated | West Germany:16 (nf)

Did You Know?

Severine gives Roubaud a Nogent knife, which he is impressed with. The region of Nogent-Bassigny is a centre of French cutlery manufacture. It also the name of a company that makes knives and similar items.See more »
Jacques Lantier:Pecqueux, I have to tell you something. Don't say a word and don't move. I killed her. That's right, I killed her. It's all over. I'll never see her again. It'll be the death of me, I know it. I couldn't bear to hold her anymore. I loved her, you know? I loved her little hands most of all. But there's one thing I don't get: why haven't they arrested me?See more »
Movie Connections:
Referenced in Ratavartijan kaunis Inkeri (1950)See more »
Le coeur de NinonSee more »


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70 out of 71 people found the following review useful.
Renoir & Zola Make a Good Combination, 24 May 2001
Author: Snow Leopard from Ohio

Jean Renoir's "La Bête Humaine" is an excellent screen adaptation of Émile Zola's novel, which also contains some excellent photography and a fine performance by lead actor Jean Gabin. While usually overshadowed by Renoir's other more (justifiably) celebrated masterpieces, in itself it is a very good picture, with Zola's ideas and characters providing ideal material for the great director.

Most likely, the reason why "La Bête Humaine" is less appreciated than Renoir's other works is because it is so closely tied to the novel - which itself is actually part of a series of novels. Someone not familiar with Zola would find it harder to understand some of the action, especially the behavior of the main character, railway engineer Jacques Lantier (Gabin). There is a brief message at the opening of the film explaining the basic theme, but it would hardly be possible to bring an audience completely up-to-date with just a short note.

The novel on which the film is based is part of a series of 20 novels that Zola wrote, which cover the history of a single family through several generations and through several decades of 19th-century French history. Each of these stories is capable of standing on its own, but they are more satisfying if you know at least something of the broader context. "La Bête Humaine" is one of the last few volumes in the series, and accordingly, it largely assumes a familiarity with the basic themes. Zola had two main concerns in these novels: (i) to show how certain family traits (positive and negative) re-appear in successive generations, and (ii) to show how the lives of a particular family reflect events and trends in French society as a whole. Zola was a naturalistic writer - he had a strong sense of identification with and sympathy for his characters, but he also portrayed his characters and his country in an uncompromising light, just as they were.

There are at least a couple of ways that this context helps better to appreciate the film version of "La Bête Humaine". First, Jacques Lantier comes from a branch of the family that was particularly plagued with mental instability. He has many positive qualities, but also is tormented by barely-suppressed violent urges. Gabin does an excellent job (as he always does) of portraying his character, but some of it is lost if the viewer is unaware of who he is supposed to be. Second, the railway setting, interesting in its own right, is meant to be suggestive of other forces, both within Lantier's mind and also outside of his life. (The action in this story is supposed to have taken place in about 1870, a tumultuous time in French history.)

All of this comes together in the outstanding opening sequence, which shows Lantier's train rushing across the countryside. The beautiful photography and skillful editing help us to feel as if we were in the train with him, and all of this is supposed to suggest not just the setting of the story to come, but also the powerful forces - both inside Lantier and outside of him - which he cannot control.

All of the subsequent plot developments - interesting and sometimes surprising in themselves - build on this foundation. This is nicely and carefully done, even if some of it is unfortunately lost if the viewer does not know a little of the wider context.

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