La Bête Humaine 1938

Paris Film Production

Many thanks to Steve Esposito who tipped me off about “A dour French film with great train scenes”. Normally, I don’t review foreign films, but La Bête Humaine (translation: The Human Beast) is not only available on YouTube, but just the train scenes, are available there also. Well, when you make it that easy for me, it’s hard to resist. I’ll review only the train vistas, then.

And what a collection of train views it is! Filmmakers got up in the cab and trackside to film SNCF pre-WW2 steam in all its glory. Left-handed running fast passenger trains on a double track mainline.

The star of the show is SNCF 4-6-2 steam locomotive #231-592. One engine from this class has been preserved (#231-558), restored and is operational.

Comparison of our black & white “movie star” #231-592 with present-day sister 4-6-2 #231-558. Looking good in racing green and gold pinstripes!

Here we see the Beast himself putting #231-592 through its paces. Engineer Jacques Lantier (played by Jean Gabin) is quite the accomplished engine driver, but he’s also a bit of a mental case. We’ll just skip over the latter and enjoy the train geeking, shall we? Okay, then…

The first full runby is of a fast passenger train with SNCF markings, presumably led by #231-592. I count 10 cars including boxcar, baggage car, 7 coaches and guard’s van on the rear.

Jacques whistles for his fireman Pecqueux (played by Julien Carette). I’m guessing that’s engine cab shorthand for “needs a drink of water”. Pecqueux turns a valve wheel on the backhead to inject some water.

The noise in that open cab must be deafening.

Engineer’s view of a meet with an opposing express train; look at those close clearances as they come upon an overhead arched bridge!

Sequence of the train coming up to “track pans” filled with water. Pecqueux lowers a scoop on the tender to take on H2O, eliminating a water stop.

Crossing a long, curved trestle and coming into Barentin, France.

As they pull into Le Havre station, we see quite the variety of steam power outside the terminal. How about that Tank Engine Thomas clone under the yard tower?

With Pecqueux in the gangway, Jacques guides #231-592 under the trainshed at Le Havre. Later, Beast Boy works on his locomotive in the yards.

What a filthy job (shoveling ashes and clinkers out of the firebox) for the Fireman Pecqueux!

That was fun. Now, let’s see if we can pick out some more French locations:

Passenger train pulling through Breaute – Beuzeville station.

Entering Paris – St. Lazare terminal. Notice the advertisement for the fabulous Galeries Lafayette shopping mall in Paris!

Roaring through Vernon-Eure on the Le Havre to Paris run.

Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite screen caps:

1 – Well lit shot of the entire backhead of #231-592’s cab.
2 – It’s six o’clock as an official watches the boarding and loading on the platform.
3 – Like any good engineer, Jacques feels for hot bearings by hand and for flaws/cracks with a hammer on his locomotive.
4 – I’m not sure of this location (our train passed right through it without stopping), but it’s a compact station in a town, nestled between two tunnels. Pretty cool how every inch of space was used for track and platforms.

Did I say Beast Boy previously? Well, here he is freaking out, attacking his fireman, then joining the birds (the train is at full speed), thus plummeting to a painful death trackside, and bringing our sordid little film to a close. Fin, already!

Just the train bits (what I reviewed) are here:

If you’d like to see the whole movie it is here:

That is if Youtube hasn’t taken it down…

Here’s what IMDb has to say about La Bête Humaine:

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at:, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!



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