Opening scene… The train in motion pulls the viewer into the scene and, thereby, the movie. I’m sure this is done purposefully much like the opening in the first Indiana Jones movie with the rolling boulder. I certainly remember seeing the IJ intro for the first time and thinking it was the best movie intro I had ever seen and, at once, realized I had literally moved forward towards the edge of my seat. But this seems to be the intent of action introductions; that being the immediate enthrallment into a movie and, hopefully, an escape for a time from the doldrums of ordinary life; entertainment, in other words.
To our film clip, there is a near frenetic pace switching back and forth between the exterior train views and that of the interactions of the two train engineers. I feel much can be read into this. Most certainly this was an editing choice which puts the viewer directly on the train and in a moment or two… in a pitch black tunnel. The tunnel scene, which solidifies our personal involvement (no one looked away did they?) in the intro, adds uncertainty to what might lie ahead; pitch black representing the unknown. Only after a second or two are we able to focus on the faint light of the approaching tunnel exit. If we stretch a bit, (or maybe not) one could interpret the exterior shots where the engineers look ahead as a scuttle attempt towards getting the viewer to anticipate what is coming; the unknown or what is uncertain. For me, it was the dichotomy of the two scenes with respect to there pace. The interior scene was more calm or everyday while the exterior scenes were more uneasy; the wobbly train, the quick wind made apparent by the train smoke, and the bleakness of the surrounds. This imbalance suggests something uncertain or less than serene is about to unfold. This scenario is, of course, played out as the film progresses through the storyline of deceit and murder. All of these visual cues, including the requisite gritty B & W film perspective, portend coming mystery and intrigue creating what could be a great introduction for almost any mystery movie, but especially for one that depicts mans lesser qualities; a film noir fundamental. While a coal burning train is dirty by nature it provides another scuttle cue towards the gritty drama to unfold. Yet, one doesn't need look past the title which translated means “The Human Beast” to see where this story is likely heading.
From this it is easy to see why this film genre was aptly named when considering most of these 'black film portrayals of societal ills' have as a storyline mans lesser qualities. Sprinkle that with some quick dry humor and/or bravado, and present it with the ubiquitous ‘in your face’ gritty quality indigenous to B & W film styling’s and you have what I feel are the hallmarks of the film noir genre.
As for the opening, I can see how this would be a captivating and memorable scene for those who have seen the movie, especially in its day, just as the Indiana Jones rolling boulder intro has been for me.