La Bête Humaine (Directors Suite) (1938)

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Released 18-Nov-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Booklet-La Bête Humaine: Filming Zola
Gallery-Poster
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1938
Running Time 95:59 (Case: 100)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Jean Renoir
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean Gabin
Simone Simon
Fernand Ledoux
Blanchette Brunoy
Gérard Landry
Jenny Hélia
Colette Régis
Claire Gérard
Charlotte Clasis
Jacques Berlioz
Tony Corteggiani
André Tavernier
Marcel Pérès
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Joseph Kosma


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    La Bête Humaine is based on the novel of the same name by Emile Zola. The novel was published in 1890 and it was hugely successful. The theme of the novel and Jean Renoir's adaptation of it in 1938, is the tragic consequences of love and its related emotions, jealousy, lust, greed, envy and murder. This is certainly no easy subject matter and the theme of the film could only be made in the 1930s in Europe. It took Fritz Lang to remake it in 1954 in the United States, films like this would never have passed the US censors in the 1940s.

    Jean Gabin, the great French actor who reached his creative zenith in the 1930s with films such as Pepe Le Moko, The Grand Illusion, Port of Shadows and this film plays Jacques Lantier, a train engineer who has an inherited madness (according to the novel) or epilepsy (according to film reviews based on Renoir's adaptation). To control his overwhelming feelings to want to kill women who he gets involved with he seeks to live a quiet life, driving his train, which he describes as his "true love". Simone Simon plays Séverine Roubaud, a beautiful young woman who is convinced by her husband to kill her godfather after he tries to seduce her. They succeed in killing Grandmorin, Séverine's godfather, but the murder is witnessed by Lantier, who blackmails the couple for his silence due to his love for Séverine. From here the film plays out its tragic outcomes, as all classic film noirs do.

    The film proved to be Jean Renoir's greatest mainstream financial success and it led to the establishment of a production company. Unfortunately, the failure of his next film, The Rules of the Game and the advent of the Second World War meant that Renoir had to go to Hollywood to continue to work. He wouldn't find success in his filmmaking ventures until 1951's The River, made in India and The Golden Coach, made in 1953 in Europe. Jean Gabin had a similar career path. His difficult personality was tolerated when he was hugely successful in France in the 1930s. However, he too fled to the United States and found work for foreigners was not so conducive to the critical adulation he was used to in France. He would go on to star in a series of box office failures until Jacques Becker threw him a lifeline with a lead role in Touchez pas au grisbi in 1954 (Incidentally this great crime noir film was released by Madman's Directors Suite label recently, and it will be reviewed on this site soon). Simone Simon did find success in Hollywood in the 1940s in her starring roles in the The Devil and Daniel Webster and Cat People. Her film career stalled in the 1950s, her last notable roles were for Max Ophüls in his 1950s films, La Ronde and Le Plaisir.

    This is the third Jean Renoir title to be released by Directors Suite, after The River and The Golden Coach with more Renoir titles on the way with the release of his other 'stage and spectacle' trilogy films after The Golden Coach, French Cancan and Elena and Her Men and the exciting release of his unfinished classic, Une Partie De Campagne coming in March 2010.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented on a single-layered DVD-5 disc. The average bitrate is 4.91 mb per sec, but this bitrate is consistent throughout the film.

    The aspect ratio is 1:33:1 full frame not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The video transfer seems to be identical to the Region 1 restored Criterion Collection transfer which is generally very sharp, although some transition scenes have not been restored and the viewer can certainly spot the difference between the parts of the film that have been improved upon and those which have not, although these scene transitions are usually minor, short scenes. Shadow Detail is crisp and precise, as good as it can look on DVD. Grain is minimal and there is no significant low level noise, despite the video transfer only being presented on a single-sided DVD-5 disc.

    The black and white cinematography looks pristine in its restored state. It's hard to believe that the film was made in 1938, at times it looks that good!

    Film Artefacts are present on the transfer. These are mainly dust marks and scratches, but these are infrequent.

    Madman again provides its customers with the option of white or yellow subtitles which is especially praiseworthy. The only minor criticism I can offer with the subtitling is the small size of the captioning at the bottom of the screen. It's okay for me to read as I am in my late-thirties, however it may not be so easy to read for our elderly fans of this site who pick up this DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer has not been restored in the same manner in which the video transfer has. It has been cleaned up though and the audio soundtrack is okay for a film of this age.

    The main audio track is in French, encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224 kbps.

    Dialogue is mainly clear and is synchronised.

    The music soundtrack by Joseph Korma is typical for the late 1930s, full of melodramatic orchestral string sections to heighten the emotional tension in the film. There is also a lot more incidental sounds used in this film than was normal for a film of its period, with many background sounds used to orientate scenes, especially with train station sounds and moving train sounds. The main soundtrack does contain a slight background hiss throughout the film, although there are no significant pops or crackling effects.

    There is no surround channel usage as the main soundtrack is in mono.

    The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Booklet - La Bête Humaine: Filming Zola

Film historian and screenwriter James Leahy provides another well-researched essay for a Jean Renoir release by Directors Suite. This time the booklet is 16 pages in length, including photographs, and it details the origins and preparation of the film, the shooting schedule, comparisons to Emile Zola's 1890 novel and concludes with Jean Renoir's creative process on this film which ultimately led to his greatest critical success, The Rules of the Game in 1939. For further reading on James Leahy's thoughts on Jean Renoir as a filmmaker, you can access his Senses of Cinema article here.

Theatrical Trailer (3:03)

This is the original theatrical trailer which runs for about three minutes. It is notable for the fact that it shows the original condition of the video transfer, which shows what a magnificent job has been done in restoring the film!

Gallery-Posters

These feature shows nine theatrical posters that were used to promote the film.

Directors Suite trailers

Four Directors Suite trailers are included for Jean Renoir's The River, Otto Preminger's Whirlpool, Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life and Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 Criterion Collection release of La Bête Humaine has an identical video and audio transfer to the Region 4 Madman release, although it has more extras. These include the following:

    Therefore, with its additional extras, the Region 1 Criterion Collection version of La Bête Humaine is the best version currently available on DVD.

Summary

    La Bête Humaine is certainly not a film that can be compared to other films of its era. It is a tragic crime film noir, the type of film that became more popular in Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s through the works of directors such as Jules Dassin, Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder and Orson Welles. This was Jean Renoir's most successful film financially, and its success led Renoir to make his most personal film yet, the magnificent 1939 masterpiece, The Rules of the Game, which was the culmination of Renoir's realised social criticism of 1930s French society realised onto film up to that point.

    If you are a fan of Jean Renoir's works or of French classic cinema in general, then this fine presentation of La Bête Humaine by Directors Suite on DVD comes highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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