Noir City Hollywood, the Home Game: LA BÊTE HUMAINE and HUMAN DESIRE

These two Railroad Noir films are not only linked thematically, they are based on the same source material, a novel by Emile Zola.

Our first adaptation is Jean Renoir’s 1938 film by the same name, staring Jean Gabin and Simone Simon.

Warning: Both of these flicks are full of explicit, on-screen violence towards women, but the Renoir version definitely wins that particularly ugly dick-measuring contest. Our anti-hero protagonist kicks off the film by assaulting and choking a friend’s sexy daughter, who somehow loves him anyway. (???) If you are uncomfortable with that kind of thing, you might want to skip this double feature.

Still with me? Ok, let’s dig in,

The plot involves a tortured railroad man who suffers from a mysterious, possibly hereditary brain malady that causes inexplicably rapey migraines. An engine failure leaves him stranded in a small town, where he gets mixed in a murder plot with a femme fatale, her childhood sexual abuser and her violently jealous hubby. Needless to say this doesn’t go well for anyone involved.

In the ‘38 version there’s a little less emphasis on the hereditary nature of the engineer’s affliction from the novel and more on the violence, darkness and moral ambiguity inherent in all of us. There are no good characters, just bad ones and worse ones and everybody is fucked. Which is the way we like it here in Noir City.

That’s not the only reason I liked the French version better. I love the gritty realism of the railroad men’s rough and tumble soot-stained lives.

I loved Simone Simon as the bratty, sex-kitten Femme Fatale. I mean, she’s a stone knockout and I’ll watch her in anything, but I loved the way she shifted seamlessly between manipulative villainess and surprisingly raw and vulnerable victim in this role.

Also, there’s a raincoat sex scene.

RAINCOAT SEX SCENE!!! Yes, they leave the raincoats on. If they were clear vinyl raincoats I would be dead and somebody less kinky would be writing this, probably.

Also, bleak-as-fuck down ending. None of this tacked on American studio happy ending crapola.

Anyway this flick is streaming on the Criterion Channel and Mistress Christa says check it out.

Next up, the American studio happy ending crapola!

Ok that’s not really fair. The 1954 version is still pretty great. Gloria Grahame is perfectly cast as the sexy yet weirdly child-like Femme Fatale and I love Noir City regular Broderick Crawford as her sweaty, violent lug of a husband.

The big change here is that Americans are less comfortable with moral ambiguities, so the studio figured we needed something a little more hero-shaped to hang onto. Enter Glenn Ford as a returning Korean War vet who just wants to go fishing and maybe catch a movie with a nice girl, but somehow finds himself sniffing after Gloria Graham instead.

I’ve written this one up before too, albeit before I saw the superior French version. I still think it’s worth watching.


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