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The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Not Rated | | Biography, Drama | 2 October 1937 (USA)
The biopic of the famous French muckraking writer and his involvement in fighting the injustice of the Dreyfuss Affair.



(screen play), (screen play) | 4 more credits »

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



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


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


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


Biography | Drama


Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

2 October 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Emile Zolas liv  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


One of two Best Picture Oscar winners with a 'Z' in the title. The other one was The Great Ziegfeld (1936). See more »


In this story set in France and featuring French characters, the written and printed texts are all in English. See more »


Émile Zola: Life is tricky.
See more »


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


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

Fine acting, poor history
6 July 2000 | by (Dunwoody, Georgia, USA) – See all my reviews

I highly recommend "The Life of Emile Zola" for the brilliant performances of Paul Muni, Gale Sondergaard, and Joseph Schildkraut. (Although I still must admit I'm surprised by Schildkraut's Oscar victory...although he certainly does a good job as Alfred Dreyfus, the role doesn't really give him much opportunity to demonstrate his talents. Dreyfus is not shown in any depth; his role consists almost entirely of protesting his innocence and languishing in prison.)

Strong performances aside, though, I do have some problems with the film. It strikes me as very odd that a film that makes such a big deal about "the truth" is so hesitant at actually depicting it. One of the key issues of the Dreyfus affair, anti-semitism, is never even brought up. The only reference to Dreyfus' Judaism is a passing glimpse on his personnel papers. The filmmakers' reluctance to address such an important part of the story does a disservice to history.

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