Democracy is what everyone praises sky high and drags in mud everything that makes it worthwhile.
In a material universe matter has its own way of imposing into our rational thinking. Money for instance.
Big Daddy-o was rich and one day he called Sad Sack and said,” Here is ten thousand bucks. It is yours.”
Sad Sack who hadn’t seen a hundred for a long while, thought he was in for luck. He didn’t even think Big Daddy-O gave away money for nothing. Oh boy! He just thought he could do whatever the big fellow asked. Yes Daddy-O wanted Sad Sack to deliver something and he also said,” I’ll make it easier for you, take Daisy Mae, moored at the end of the pier. At Lands End you will be met.” He whispered the pass word and said,’You just accompany the fellow. Next morning you can just return with a bonus of 100 thousand.” Sad Sack didn’t think twice and he took the boat and before he could meet his contact he was met by the cops who seized the boat. Hidden in that boat were millions worth of contraband goods.
Talk of millions how come some people immediately throw their good sense out of window?
La Bête Humaine Is directed by Jean Renoir after his La Grande Illusion. The film has none of the grandeur of his anti-war movie. Jean Gabin stars in both films, The film is based on Zola’s novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle where Emile Zola adopted a naturalist style in order to show the hereditary influence of alcoholism and violence over five generations of a single family. (The Human Beast was the last in the series. By the way Renoir had adapted Nana (1926) and this film was his second of Zola’s novels.) Renoir’s film opens with a quotation highlighting this theme:
At times this hereditary flaw weighed heavily upon him. He felt he was paying the price for the generations of his forefathers whose drinking had poisoned his blood. His head felt as if it would explode in the throes of his suffering. He was compelled to acts beyond the control of his will, acts whose causes lay hidden deep within him.
There follows a signed photograph of Zola, as if Renoir was intent on tacking his film on his name but in developing the story he made the film into a symbiotic relationship of man with his machine into which Séverine, the woman and le crime passionel are more incidentals than crucial pieces in explaining his falling apart. Instead of Zola’s painstakingly constructed theme of the “hereditary flaw” Renoir builds up a straightforward crime melodrama: engine driver Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin) along with his partner Pecqueux (Carette) are waiting in La Havre for the repair of their train. Lantier witnesses the murder by stationmaster Roubard (Fernand Ledoux) of the wealthy Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz). With that casual incident he is drawn into a domestic tragedy: Séverine (Simone Simon) the young wife of the murderer knows Lantier is an accessory and she is out to buy his silence in the only way she knows how. Of course her husband also thinks it is a good idea. Their friendship develops into a passionate affair whch can only end in tragedy.
This was Renoir’s second-to-last film before the outbreak of war. Perhaps the romantic fatalism of this dark tale must owe something to his previous film Le Crime de M. Lange in which he had teamed up with Jacques Prévert who went on to script Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows) which was released in the same year as this film.
Lantier is flawed as we shall see as the film builds up but among his co- workers, and standing before the engine he is in his natural element. It is established by a lengthy opening sequence, where he along with Pecqueux are attending to their tasks. The two actors actually learned how to operate a train, which Renoir then filmed for this sequence. There’s an incredible dynamism here with the roar and din of the train as it rushes along the track, Lantier and Pecqueux working in perfect, almost wordless unison. There is a documentary quality to the way the sequence is arranged with the repeated point-of-view shots of the track ahead, the landscape and buildings flashing by, and the story begins to take on with their final entry into the Le Havre station.
Having positioned Lantier as a working man Renoir also takes pains to show him interact with his colleagues in everyday and casual details such as Lantier greeting other drivers, reporting the malfunctioning axle, and these serve a specific function of setting him in a social context which Zola would have recognized as naturalism expressed in cinematic idiom.
Renoir’s political leanings are evident in the way he develops his working class hero and pointing to the undercurrents of class distinctions that existed in the society.
Running Time: 96 mins
* Jean Gabin – Jacques Lantier
* Julien Carette – Pecqueux
* Jean Renoir – Cabuche, the Poacher
* Gerard Landry – Dauvergne’s Son
* Colette Regis – Victoire
* Jacques Brunius – Farm Worker
* Georges Spanelly – Grand-Morin’s Secretary
* Georges Péclet – Railway Worker
* Tony Corteggiani – Section’s Chief
* Emile Genevois – Farm Worker
* Simone Simon – Séverine
* Fernand Ledoux – Robaud, Séverine’s Husband
* Blanchette Brunoy – Flore
* Jenny Hélia – Philomene
* Jacques Berlioz – Grand-Morin
* Léon Larive – Grand-Morin’s servant
* Marcel Pérès – Lampmaker
* Charlotte Clasis – Aunt Phasie
* Guy Decomble – Garde-barriere
* Claire Gérard – Traveler
Curt Courant – Cinematographer; Suzanne de Troeye – Editor; Raymond Hakim – Producer; Robert Hakim – Producer; Joseph Kosma – Composer (Music Score); Eugène Lourié – Set Designer; Jean Renoir – Director; Jean Renoir – Screenwriter; Marguerite Renoir – Editor; Emile Zola – Book Author
Double Indemnity; In a Lonely Place; La Chienne; Le Jour Se Lève; Ossessione; Toni; Voici le Temps des Assassins; Le Dernier Tournant
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. Fritz Lang had earlier remade another of Renoir’s film La Chienne (1931), a savage and dark drama about a man’s self-destruction, as Scarlet Street.
* Venice Film Festival: Mussolini Cup, Best Film, Jean Renoir; 1939.
King Pepin was once riding along the countryside and there sat a beggar who seeing the king on a snowy white horse, said,” The king doesn’t deserve to ride a horse as magnificent as that.” Another beggar who sat next to him,” Why do you say that?” The beggar loudly for all to hear said,” The king is more a toad than a man.” King Pepin was indeed ugly. The king heard the beggar’s insult but chose to ignore it since he knew his position demanded he put himself above the remarks of a beggar.
We make comparisons often for the wrong reasons. We are rational beings and yet our line of reasoning like the envy of the beggar is more colored by our material make up than by truth. When a politician invokes the name of God or appeal to our patriotic duty do we really catch on his real motive?