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The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Passed | | 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.

Director:

William Dieterle

Writers:

Norman Reilly Raine (screen play), Heinz Herald (screen play) | 4 more credits »
Reviews
Won 3 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »

Photos

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Paul Muni ... Emile Zola
Gale Sondergaard ... Lucie Dreyfus
Joseph Schildkraut ... Capt. Alfred Dreyfus
Gloria Holden ... Alexandrine Zola
Donald Crisp ... Maitre Labori
Erin O'Brien-Moore ... Nana (as Erin O'Brien Moore)
John Litel ... Charpentier
Henry O'Neill ... Colonel Georges Picquart
Morris Carnovsky ... Anatole France
Louis Calhern ... Major Dort
Ralph Morgan ... Commander of Paris
Robert Barrat ... Major Walsin-Esterhazy
Vladimir Sokoloff ... Paul Cezanne
Grant Mitchell ... Georges Clemenceau
Harry Davenport ... Chief of Staff
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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 Picked a Faded Rose From the Streets of Paris and Made Her the Immortal Nana! (original print ad) See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Joseph Schildkraut's Oscar winning performance in this film is his only Academy Award nomination. See more »

Goofs

Zola is shown as not wanting to get involved in the Dreyfus Affair until he is won over by an emotional plea from Mme. Dreyfus following the Esterhazy trial. In fact, he had interested himself in the affair for some time before that and had written articles denouncing the anti-semitism that had condemned Dreyfus. See more »

Quotes

Émile Zola: At this solemn moment, in the presence of this tribunal, which is the representative of human justice, before France, before the whole world, I swear that Dreyfus is innocent! By all that I have won, by all that I have written to spread the spirit of France, I swear that he is innocent. May all that melt away; may my name perish if Dreyfus be not innocent. He is innocent.
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Connections

Featured in Breakdowns of 1938 (1938) 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

Still one of the best Hollywood docudramas
11 July 2000 | by MankinSee all my reviews

Handsomely mounted in the Warner Brothers style of the 30's, and topped off with a stirring Max Steiner score, "The Life of Emile Zola" (***) remains a passionately engrossing experience. Refreshingly, the film admits upfront right after the opening titles that it's a fictionalization, something that isn't done nearly as often it should be in today's purportedly "true story" docudramas. (These days, this disclaimer is often buried in the fine print at the very end of the credits after nearly everyone has left the theater.) Even so, "Zola" remains remarkably true to the facts. It skips lightly over the author's early years in the first 20 minutes and then soars to gripping dramatic heights in the outrageous libel trial that Zola underwent after he published his celebrated "J'Accuse" which condemned the hypocrisy and corruption of the military establishment as it falsely accused high-ranking Captain Alfred Dreyfus of treason and then attempted a massive cover-up when it realized it had made a mistake. The movie has been criticized for underplaying the anti-semitic aspects of the Dreyfus prosecution, but it's implied quite neatly in the scene where the camera pans down Dreyfus's resume to his religion while one of his superiors marvels how "someone like that" could became an officer. The film does indulge in some pretty fancy compression towards the end. It implies that Dreyfus was reinstated in the Army right after returning from Devil's Island and on the same day as Zola's tragic accidental death. However, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the real facts are even more disturbing and incredible. In 1899 after his return, Dreyfus was retried and found guilty again by a court tribunal! However, he was pardoned by the President. He was finally cleared of all charges and reinstated in the service in 1906, four years after Zola's death in 1902. Interesting sidelight: Zola and his devoted wife had no children but he did carry on a 14-year affair with one of his housemaids that produced 2 children. I guess there's no way the Warner Brothers were going to complicate the image of their hero as a saintly crusader for truth and justice by including this spicy little domestic tidbit.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

2 October 1937 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Story of Emile Zola See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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