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The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Approved  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  2 October 1937 (USA)
7.4
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 4,264 users  
Reviews: 40 user | 29 critic

The biopic of the famous French muckraking writer and his involvement in fighting the injustice of the Dreyfuss Affair.

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Won 3 Oscars. Another 4 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Erin O'Brien-Moore ...
Nana (as Erin O'Brien Moore)
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Charpentier
Henry O'Neill ...
Morris Carnovsky ...
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Commander of Paris
Robert Barrat ...
Vladimir Sokoloff ...
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Storyline

Fictionalized account of the life of famed French author Emile Zola. As portrayed in the film, he was a penniless writer sharing an apartment in Paris with painter Paul Cezanne when he finally wrote a best-seller, Nana. He has always had difficulty holding onto a job as he is quite outspoken, being warned on several occasions by the public prosecutor that he risks charges if he does not temper his writings. The bulk of the film deals with his involvement in the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was falsely convicted of giving secret military information to the Germans and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devils Island. Antisemitism played an important role in the real-life case but is hardly mentioned in the film. Even after the military found definitive evidence that Dreyfus was innocent, the army decided to cover it up rather than face the scandal of having arbitrarily convicted the wrong man. Zola's famous letter, J'Accuse (I Accuse), led to his own trial for libel where he was ... Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

He'll Hold You In Silence As Deep As Your Emotions ! See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

2 October 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Emile Zolas liv  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
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Technical Specs

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Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was shot in reverse order; Paul Muni grew his own beard for the role, and it was trimmed and darkened as he proceeded to scenes where Zola is younger. His makeup took 3-1/2 hours to apply each morning. See more »

Goofs

The lettering on the door to Clemenceau's office at the newspaper misspells his first name "George" instead of the correct French spelling, "Georges". See more »

Quotes

Émile Zola: [reading from his letter "I Accuse"] I shall tell the truth. Because if I did not, my nights would be haunted by the spectre of an innocent man expiating under the most frightful torture a crime he never committed.
See more »

Connections

Remade as Lux Video Theatre: The Life of Emile Zola (1955) See more »

Soundtracks

La Marseillaise
(1792) (uncredited)
Written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
Variations often in the score
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User Reviews

A Well-Crafted, Worthwhile Memorial to Zola
15 September 2004 | by (Ohio) – See all my reviews

This well-crafted film is a worthwhile memorial to Émile Zola, one of the finest writers of his era, and one who deserves to be better-known today outside of his own country. It seems likely that Zola, a naturalistic writer who always used lifelike, genuine characters who had both strengths and weaknesses, would probably have been satisfied with the way he is portrayed by Paul Muni and by the screenplay. Zola is shown not as a flawless hero or as a larger-than-life icon, but as a real person with a talent for writing, who was willing to struggle both to establish himself and to remain true to his principles.

The movie makes a good selection of events from Zola's life, looking both at his earlier years, when he was struggling to establish himself, and at his later years, when as a respected member of society he had to fight his own reluctance to remain true to his ideals. The supporting cast have smaller parts, but they generally do quite well. Vladimir Sokoloff has a couple of nice scenes as Cézanne, and his interactions with Muni are quite helpful in defining the main character, especially as he changes once attaining personal success. Joseph Schildkraut makes good use of his scenes as Dreyfus.

Zola's lifetime was also an interesting and often tumultuous period in France's own history, and the movie provides at least a small taste of that.

There was, for example, even more to the Dreyfus situation than is shown here, but it and other historical events are shown mainly as they involved Zola himself - otherwise, to do justice to the events in themselves, the movie would have had to be several times as long. There's plenty here as it is to make it worthwhile, both as a good drama and as a believable portrait of Zola.


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