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The story centers on a train engineer Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin) who lusts after Séverine Roubaud (Simone Simon), the wife of his co-worker Roubaud (Fernand Ledoux).
Roubaud discovers that his young wife, Séverine, has been seduced by her godfather, the wealthy Grandmorin. Jealous, Roubaud forces Séverine to assist in the murder of Grandmorin during a train journey. The murder is witnessed by a railway worker, Jacques Lantier, but he keeps quiet because he is in love with Séverine. Disgusted by what her husband has done, Séverine has an affair with Lantier and pleads with him to kill her cruel husband. Little does she know that Lantier also has a dark secret.
Source : Wikipedia
Jean Gabin wanted to star in a film about locomotives and wrote a screenplay called Train d'Enfer, that was originally to be directed by Jean Grémillon. Dissatisfied with the script, Grémillon suggested an adaptation of La Bête humaine. After his success starring in Renoir's Grand Illusion (1937), Gabin preferred to work with Jean Renoir again, and hired him instead of Grémillon. Renoir eventually wrote the script over a period of eight to fifteen days. After its completion, Renoir read the screenplay to Gabin's producer Robert Hakim, who asked for "trifling modifications".
Renoir confessed that at the time when he wrote the screenplay, he had not read Zola's novel in over 25 years: "While I was shooting, I kept modifying the scenario, bringing it closer to Zola ... the dialogue which I gave Simone Simon is almost entirely copied from Zola's text. Since I was working at top speed, I'd re-read a few pages of Zola every night, to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything."
Filming commenced on August 12, 1938, with exteriors on the Gare Saint-Lazare and at Le Havre. Due to running time restrictions, Renoir had to omit several celebrated occurrences from the novel.
Source : Wikipedia