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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:

HERE IS TRUE GREATNESS! (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

Studio boss Jack L. Warner, who was himself Jewish, personally ordered that the word "Jew" be removed from all dialogue in this movie about the Alfred Dreyfus Affair, apparently in order to make the drama more universal and not to offend the Nazi regime and hurt business for the film in Germany. (Source: Ben Urwand in his controversial 2013 study, "The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Adolf Hitler".) However, the word does appear on screen in a single shot of Dreyfus' army file, where the audience can read: "Religion: Jew". See more »

Goofs

The young Zola is shown sharing a garret with Paul Cezanne. While they were friends, they did not live together in Paris. Also, they are shown as being friends long after Zola published the novel L'Oeuvre, whose main character is based on Cezanne. In fact, the book ended their friendship. See more »

Quotes

Émile Zola: Life is tricky.
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Connections

Featured in La saga Warner Bros (2014) 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

 
THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA (William Dieterle, 1937) ***1/2
23 August 2006 | by Bunuel1976See all my reviews

Of Paul Muni's three biographical films made at Warner Bros. and directed by William Dieterle (the others were THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR [1936] and JUAREZ [1939]), this was the only one which had never been shown on TV in my neck of the woods; ironically, it was the first to make it to DVD - but, then again, it is the most highly-regarded of them! Still, given the film's reputation (Best Picture Oscar Winner, Leonard Maltin rates it **** in his "Movies & Video Guide"), I somehow expected a masterpiece - but, personally, I feel that Dieterle's THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941) and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939) are greater achievements. Even so, it's been sometime since I watched a vintage old-style Hollywood film; of late, I've mostly been concentrating on Euro-Cult and World Cinema stuff - but, really, there's no beating the professionalism and sheer entertainment value of a product from the cinema's Golden Age!

The film strikes a good balance between Zola's literary career and his struggles for social justice: the latter is mostly devoted to the Dreyfus affair, a veritable cause celebre at the time (cinematically treated two more times in DREYFUS [1931] and I ACCUSE [1958], neither of which I've watched though the latter had turned up some years back on late-night Italian TV!), culminating in one of the finest courtroom scenes ever filmed. Production values are top-notch, the Oscar-winning script appropriately literate (though the constant speechifying and the film's two-hour length - by contrast, LOUIS PASTEUR had been less than 90 minutes but, then, the epic and star-studded JUAREZ was longer still - make for a somewhat heavy-going experience) and Dieterle's handling virtually impeccable; the only unpersuasive aspect, perhaps, is the one-dimensional portrayal of the corrupt French military who callously sent Dreyfus to Devil's Island for treason, and left him there to rot for years - even after they had found absolute proof of his innocence, because that would have meant admitting to a mistake!

The cast is filled with wonderful characters actors whose familiarity - and reliability - allows utmost audience involvement every step of the way, despite Hollywood's typically idealized viewing of events. Best of all, naturally, are Muni as Zola (simply brilliant, especially during his show-stopping speech at the trial, and who even ages convincingly!) and Schildkraut (a touching Dreyfus who, in spite of his relatively brief appearance, managed to walk off with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar - though, personally, I would have voted for H.B. Warner in LOST HORIZON [1937]!).

Unfortunately, the audio level on Warner's otherwise exemplary DVD is rather low; the supplements include three vintage shorts (described in more detail below), as well as the full 1-hour broadcast of a radio adaptation of the script (obviously compressed but also including some minor additions) - presented by Leslie Howard (who, at the end, even interviews William Dieterle!) and featuring Muni himself, accompanied by Josephine Hutchinson (stepping in for Gloria Holden, who had played Zola's wife in the film).


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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
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