La Bête Humaine (film)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

La Bête Humaine (English: The Human Beast and Judas Was a Woman) (1938) is a film directed by Jean Renoir, with cinematography by Curt Courant. The picture features Jean Gabin, and is based on the novel of the same name by Emile Zola.

The drama is partially set "on a train that may be thought of as one of the main characters in the film."



The story tells of train engineer Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin) who lusts after Séverine Roubaud (Simone Simon), the wife of his co-worker Roubaud (Fernand Ledoux).

Roubaud, discovers that his young wife, Séverine, has been seduced by her godfather, the wealthy Grandmorin. Jealous, Roubaud forces Séverine to assist in the murder of Grandmorin during a train journey. The murder is witnessed by a railway worker, Jacques Lantier, but he keeps quiet because he is in love with Séverine. Disgusted by what her husband has done, Séverine has an affair with Lantier and pleads with him to kill her cruel husband. Little does she know that Lantier also has a dark secret.


  • 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 had a great desire of starring in a film about locomotives, and wrote a screenplay called Train d'Enfer, to be directed by Jean Grémillon. Dissatisfied with the script, Grémillon suggested an adaptation of La Bête humaine. After the success of Grand Illusion (1937), Gabin preferred to be directed by Jean Renoir again, and hired him instead of Grémillon. Renoir eventually wrote the script between eight and fifteen days. After its completion, Renoir read the screenplay to Gabin's producer Robert Hakim, who asked for "trifling modifications".

Reinoir confessed that by the time of writing the screenplay, he had not read the book 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."

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

Critical reception

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


In 1954 director Fritz Lang remade the picture as Human Desire, a film noir featuring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, among others.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "La Bête Humaine (film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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