The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Not Rated  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  2 October 1937 (USA)
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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 overview, first billed only:
Erin O'Brien-Moore ...
Nana (as Erin O'Brien Moore)
Henry O'Neill ...
Morris Carnovsky ...
Commander of Paris
Robert Barrat ...
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


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Biography | Drama


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Release Date:

2 October 1937 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Emile Zolas liv  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Writers Heinz Herald and Geza Herczeg initially took the project to Ernst Lubitsch at Paramount who immediately recognized the potential of the film. He also knew that Paul Muni was the only actor capable of pulling off Émile Zola but Muni was contracted to Warner Brothers at the time, so Lubitsch sold the project on to Warners. See more »


When Nana comes into the café from the snow, the artificial snow stays on her clothes long after real snow would have melted, then suddenly in a second it disappears with the next cut. See more »


Émile Zola: Life is tricky.
See more »


Referenced in Hollywood Hist-o-Rama: Paul Muni (1962) See more »


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

A Wonderful Life of Emile Zola ****
12 January 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Marvelous historical biography of Emile Zola, splendidly played by Paul Muni.

Always for the poor person, Zola immerses himself in the Dreyfus Affair. Count Esterhazy, the guilty person, is successfully able to frame Dreyfus for passing secrets to the enemy during the Franco-Prussian War. What hurts the most is that Dreyfus, a high ranking official in the French army, was immediately condemned due to a wave of anti-semitism throughout France.

Zola shall fight for the exoneration of Dreyfus all the way. In his famous J'Accuse, he drives this goal into total action.

Joseph Schildkraut, as Dreyfus, won the best supporting actor award for his portrayal of the condemned man. You feel his hurt and ultimate triumph through every step of the way. His imprisonment at Devils Island is so realistic. His wife in all this is well played by actress Gale Sondergaard, who shed her usual evil-like performances and turned in a remarkable one as the grief stricken faithful wife of the apparently hopeless Dreyfuss.

When Dreyfus is ultimately exonerated, tragedy strikes. Zola dies accidentally from poisonous gas seeping through his home. He may be gone but his legacy would live on.

11 of 17 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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