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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 »

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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:

BROUGHT BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND! (print ad - Lubbock Morning Avalanche - Texan Theatre - Lubbock, Texas - March 8, 1938 - all caps) See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Based on the same historical events as depicted in The Dreyfus Case (1930), The Dreyfus Case (1931), I Accuse! (1958), Prisoner of Honor (1991) and An Officer and a Spy (2019). See more »

Goofs

Zola died in 1902. Dreyfus was not exonerated and reinstated into the Army until 1906. (In fact, after his return from Devil's Island, Dreyfus was tried again, convicted again and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was pardoned in exchange for admitting guilt.) See more »

Quotes

Émile Zola: Why didn't Picquart say anything?
Lucie Dreyfus: Colonel Picquart is a good officer. He kept silent at the request of his superiors.
Émile Zola: You mean they KNEW and they ordered him to suppress the truth? Why,that's monstrous!
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Connections

Featured in History Brought to Life (1950) 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

Memorable Courtroom Speeches
22 September 2003 | by harry-76See all my reviews

Such occasions are not unlike great arias in operas: the stage lights softly dim and follow spot brightens as all cast characters (and audience) lean forward to focus on the delivery.

Such a moment occurs in "The Life of Emile Zola" as Paul Muni as Zola steps to the platform to deliver his courtroom defense speech. Against all the odds of a jeering mob and negative press, he proceeds to offer a seven minute oration.

The scene is a set-up for Muni, and the camera, editing, and staging are all designed for the actor to deliver his thespian goods. He doesn't disappoint.

Two other cinematic courtroom speeches are comparable: Alec Guiness as Benjamin Disraeli in "The Mudlark" (1950) enjoyed the rare opportunity of having his six minute, uninterrupted speech done in a single, slow tracking shot; and Gary Cooper as Howard Roark in "The Fountainhead" (1949) held a courtroom breathless for over five minutes, defending his act of poetic, if not Randian-judicial, justice.

In Muni's case, his defense scene turned out to be a highpoint of an intriguing acting career. From Yiddish theater to worldwide stardom--with fewer that two dozen films to his credit--Muni constantly enthralled some while leaving others doubtful.

What's undeniable about Muni is that he achieved stardom on his own power. He was able to convince a goodly number of people, both peers and public alike, that he was indeed not just a good but great actor.

While some held a sneaking suspicion that he was a wee bit of a poseur, having never formally studied his craft, it really doesn't matter. Muni didn't win his lucrative acting contracts--or his Academy Award honors--for nothing.

Personally, I enjoy his general work, being more partial to roles more close to his own than those of his elders. In latter cases I felt he often tended to go a bit over-the-top with "stereotypical mannerisms."

As Zola, though, his earnestness and determination proves convincing, and the film itself is peopled with a powerhouse cadre of Warner Bros. character players.

To the film's credit, a pre-enactment inscription admits to the intermingling of fiction with fact for dramatic purposes. This also relieves the production of accusations of historical inaccuracy.

All in all, "The Life of Emile Zola" is a most engrossing biopic of a courageous literary giant who placed the pursuit of justice above the receiving of worldly accolades.


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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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