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The Life of Emile Zola Details

FULL SYNOPSIS

The second of Paul Muni's biographical films for Warner Bros., the Oscar-winning The Life of Emile Zola is by far the best, even allowing for the dramatic license taken with the material. When first we meet French novelist and essayist Zola, he is starving in a Parisian garret with his painter friend, Paul Cezanne. Each time Zola attempts to write "the truth," he is stymied by governmental censors. Still, he is able to achieve both fame and fortune with the publication of "Nana," an unardorned and best-selling tale of a prostitute (whom we can safely assume was not quite as likeable or attractive as Erin O'Brien-Moore, who plays the novel's "role model"). The lion's share of the film is devoted to Zola's attempts to clear the reputation of Army captain Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut), who has been framed on a charge of treason by his superiors and condemned to Devil's Island. Publishing his famous manifesto "J'accuse," Zola leaves himself wide open for public condemnation and criminal prosecution. Though he delivers a brilliant self-defense in court, Zola is found guilty. Forced to flee to England, he continues railing against the unjust, corrupt military establishment, eventually forcing a retrial and exoneration of Dreyfus. Alas, Zola is killed in a freak accident at home before he can meet the liberated Dreyfus. At his funeral, Emile Zola is eulogized by Anatole France (Morris Carnovsky), who refers to the fallen crusader as "a moment of the conscience of man." For various reasons -- some dramatic, some legal -- the actual facts of "L'affaire Dreyfus" are altered by the Norman Reilly Raine/Heinz Herald/Geza Herczeg screenplay. The fact that Dreyfus was railroaded because he was Jewish is obscured; in fact, except for a very brief visual reference, the word "Jew" is never mentioned. Only those villains whose names were a matter of public record (Major Dort, Major Esterhazy) are specifically identified. Others are referred to as the Chief of Staff, the Minister of War, etc. to avoid lawsuits from their descendants (remember that the events depicted in the film, most of which take place between 1894 and 1902, were still within living memory in 1937). As for Dreyfus himself, he was not freed and restored to rank in 1902, the year of Zola's death, but in 1906-after being found guilty again in an 1899 retrial (Dreyfus died in 1935, outliving everyone else involved in the case). These historical gaffes can be forgiven in the light of the film's overall message: that a single small, clear voice can fight City Hall. If for nothing else, The Life of Emile Zola deserves classic status due to Paul Muni's towering performance, most notably in the unforgettable summation scene: "By all that I have done for France, by my works -- by all that I have written, I swear to you that Dreyfus is innocent. May all that melt away -- may my name be forgotten, if Dreyfus is not innocent. He is innocent." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

  • Release date:August 11, 1937

Awards

Awarded by
Nominee
Category
Year
Status
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Heinz Herald Best Screenplay 1937 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Heinz Herald Best Original Story 1937 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nathan Levinson Best Sound 1937 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Anton Grot Best Art Direction 1937 Nominee
National Board of Review Joseph Schildkraut Best Acting 1937 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Joseph Schildkraut Best Supporting Actor 1937 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences William Dieterle Best Director 1937 Nominee
New York Film Critics Circle Paul Muni Best Actor 1937 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Paul Muni Best Actor 1937 Nominee
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Norman Reilly Raine Best Screenplay 1937 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Geza Herczeg Best Screenplay 1937 Winner
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Geza Herczeg Best Original Story 1937 Nominee

Cast

Paul Muni
as Emile Zola
Gloria Holden
as Alexandrine Zola
Gale Sondergaard
as Lucie Dreyfus
Joseph Schildkraut
as Capt. Alfred Dreyfus
Robert Warwick
as Maj. Henry
Donald Crisp
as Maitre Labori
Henry O'Neill
as Col. Picquart
Harry Davenport
as Chief of Staff
Ralph Morgan
as Commander of Paris
Frank Mayo
as Mathieu Dreyfus
Paul Everton
as Assistant Chief of Staff
Gilbert Emery
as Minister of War
Marcia Mae Jones
as Helen Richards
Frank Sheridan
as Van Cassell
Morris Carnovsky
as Anatole France
Vladimir Sokoloff
as PaulCezanne
Grant Mitchell
as Georges Clemenceau
Montagu Love
as Cavaignac
Louis Calhern
as Maj. Dort
Charles Richman
as Monsieur Delagorgue
Dickie Moore
as Pierre Dreyfus
Robert Cummings
as Gen. Gillian
Rolla Gourvitch
as Jeanne Dreyfus
Erin O'Brien-Moore
as Nana
John Litel
as Charpentier
Walter Kingsford
as Col. Sandherr
Lumsden Hare
as Mr. Richards
Moroni Olsen
as Capt. Guignet
Frank Reicher
as M. Perrenx
William Von Brincken
as Schwartzkoppen
Pierre Watkin
as Prefect of Police
Iphigenie Castiglioni
as Madame Charpentier
Arthur Aylesworth
as Chief Censor
Egon Brecher
as Brucker
Frank Darien
as Albert
Holmes Herbert
as Commander of Paris
Alexander Leftwich
as Maj. D'Aboville
Moroni Olsen
as Capt. Guignet
John Litel
as Charpentier
Frank Darien
as Albert
Robert Cummings
as Gen. Gillian
Lumsden Hare
as Mr. Richards
Rolla Gourvitch
as Jeanne Dreyfus
Walter Kingsford
as Col. Sandherr
Arthur Aylesworth
as Chief Censor
Iphigenie Castiglioni
as Madame Charpentier
Holmes Herbert
as Commander of Paris
Frank Reicher
as M. Perrenx
William Von Brincken
as Schwartzkoppen
Pierre Watkin
as Prefect of Police
Egon Brecher
as Brucker
Erin O'Brien-Moore
as Nana

Crew

William Dieterle
Director
Irving Rapper
Director
Henry Blanke
Producer
Heinz Herald
Screenwriter
Heinz Herald
Screen Story
Norman Reilly Raine
Screenwriter
Geza Herczeg
Screenwriter
Geza Herczeg
Screen Story
Tony Gaudio
Cinematographer
Leo F. Forbstein
Musical Direction/Supervision
Max Steiner
Composer (Music Score)
Warren Low
Editor
Anton Grot
Art Director
Milo Anderson
Costume Designer
Ali Hubert
Costume Designer
Nathan Levinson
Sound Recordist
Perc Westmore
Makeup
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