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La Bete Humaine (The Criterion Collection)

4.5 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Based on the classic Emile Zola novel, Jean Renoir's La bete humaine was one of the legendary director's greatest popular successes, tapping into the fatalism of a nation in despair. Jean Gabin's emblematic portrayal of doomed train engineer Jacques Lantier granted him a permanent place in the hearts of his countrymen. Part poetic realism, part film noir, the film is a hard-boiled and suspenseful journey into the tormented psyche of a workingman. SPECIAL FEATURES: New, restored high-definition digital transfer of the original uncut version. Introduction to the film by Jean Renoir. New interview with director Peter Bogdanovich. Archival interviews with Renoir discussing his adaptation of Emile Zola's novels, his process with actors, and directing actress Simone Simon. Gallery of on-set photographs and theatrical posters. Theatrical trailer. New and improved English subtitle translation. A booklet featuring writings by film critic Geoffrey O'Brien, historian Ginette Vincendeau, and production designer Eugene Lourie.

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Jacques Berlioz, Jacques Brunius, Blanchette Brunoy, Julien Carette, Charlotte Clasis
  • Directors: Jean Renoir
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Mono, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: French, English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Unrated
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000C8Q8ZQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,226 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "La Bete Humaine (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. O. DeRiemer TOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 20, 2006
Format: DVD
For the first seven minutes of La Bete Humaine we're in the open cab of a huge steam engine barreling down the tracks at 60 miles an hour from Le Havre to Paris. The only sounds are the roar of the wind and the wheels on the rails. One crew member is hurling shovels-full of coal into the fire box. The other is checking the gauges, pulling a lever, sticking his head out the side to look ahead. The engineer is dressed in dirty coveralls, a greasy cloth cap on his head, protective goggles pushed up on his forehead. The wind rushes over him. We can't hear a thing because of the noise. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of him framed for a moment against the sky. The engineer is Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin). Controlling that huge engine and driving it at speed is what has given his life any meaning. Some film critics say this was one of the movies the early noir directors in the Forties must have seen. Perhaps, but this film transcends the genre.

Lantier is a taciturn working man, not disliked but lonely. He suffers spells of headaches, fever, of "waves of grief," of violent seizures he blames on the alcoholism of his parents. He wears the sadness of life like a cloak on his shoulders. One night, as a passenger on the train returning to Le Havre, he sees the Le Havre station master, Roubard (Fernand Ledoux), and his wife, Severine (Simone Simon), on board. Roubard, jealous of his younger wife, has just killed a man in the man's train compartment. Lantier, looking at Severine, provides a statement that avoids implicating either her or her husband, but then fatefully finds himself falling in love with her. And Severine? "I am incapable of loving anyone," she tells Lantier. But Lantier moves into a passionate affair with her, a relationship which Lantier needs and which Severine uses.
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Format: VHS Tape
Although the identifying phrase "Film Noir" was yet to be used for another few decades, Jean Renoir's "La Bete Humaine" could arguably be considered one of the genre's blueprints. In fact, aside from the over-melodramatic music score, this naturalistic 1938 thriller looks and feels very contemporary. Jean Gabin is quite effective as the brooding train engineer plagued by "blackouts" in which he commits acts of uncontrollable violence, usually precipitated by moments of passion (Freudians will have a field day with all the point-of-view camerawork showing Gabin chugging his big, powerful locomotive through long dark tunnels). The beautiful Simone Simon sets the mold for all future Femme Fatales with an earthy, Sophia Loren-type sexuality not usually found in movies from the 1930's. In fact, it would be another 30 years or so before American crime films like "In Cold Blood" and "Bonnie And Clyde" would adapt a similar blend of adult language, sexuality and unflinching violence (in 1938, Hollywood was too busy pumping out Shirley Temple movies). Moody cinematography and a general existential malaise certainly doesn't make this a "feel good" popcorn movie, but fans of classic Noir will be fascinated. (Note: this film was remade in 1954 as "Human Desire").
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I'm not a great fan of Renoir, but here his style works well. He's good at photography, and usually weak on story flow - too loaded with sentiment. This heavy theme works well under his control. The print is generally good, and the extras are copius and very interesting. The psychological depictions feel authentic. Gabin's character is difficult to understand. This is not a flaw, because he is like so many real people I've encountered, difficult to understand because of their internal conflicts. His conflicts have been controlled and muted by limiting his life's focus to the train. Although his sidekick sometimes border on the "straight man", he never quite goes over the line. It contrasts well with the deep darkness of Gabin's character.

In summary: A great movie, a good repro, and a fine disc set.
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Format: DVD
Don't try to get a homicidal maniac to try to kill your husband, especially if he prefers women. A wonderful fun film filled with great shots of train rides from the engine room. Jean Gabin is a man with an urge to kill women. Simone Simon is a woman who has been sexually abused by her godfather through adolescence and her husband doesn't like it. Everyone is working class, works hard and doesn't exactly do anything past struggle for the best life possible. Thus sets the stage for a Film Noir from France. A dark sad tale of people who aren't able to control their lives very much and their efforts to control their lives are usually destructive and damaging. Jean Renoir's most profitable film and most conventional in some sense but in another, he helped invent a new genre of film. The story is initially one from Emile Zola so the setting of the story is paramount and the characters are reactors to their surroundings. Really entertaining and clever.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
"La Bete Humaine" is one of my favourites of all Emile Zola's novels. This famous film version, directed by Jean Renoir in 1938, is a clever adaption of the main characters in the book, the unfortunate Lantier (Jean Gabin), the kittenish and deadly Severin (Simone Simon) and her dour husband Roubaud (Fernand Ledoux). The book is more complex with many more sub-plots but it would have been impossible to incorporate it all so the changes are just fine, particularly as the mood has been recreated cleverly. There are many enlightening reviews on Amazon so I simply summarise as follows:

- this is a Criterion package so the print has been restored from the best possible sources and is very good, preserving the stunning composition which was integral to Renoir's skill.
- the extras include some very important interviews which assist the novice enormously to understand the gravity of the film, particularly if the viewer is unfamiliar with the source material. Peter Bogdanovich is entertaining and to the point as always but more importantly, there are two interviews/segments with Renoir himself, one in which he introduces the film for a screening on TV in the late 50s and the other when he recreates directing Simone Simon.
- best of all, the package contains a booklet with 3 really excellent essays about the film, the novel and the production itself. These are invaluable.

As usual, Criterion have made a significant contribution to the preservation and reincarnation of an important classic film.
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