The Life of Emile Zola
More About The Life of Emile Zola
Paul Muni stars as Emile Zola, giving possibly his best performance in this excellent biography of the great writer, which won three Oscars, including Best Picture. The film's most unusual aspect is its evasiveness regarding the anti-Semitism that led to the terrible injustice of the Dreyfus affair. As Neil Gabler and others have pointed out, this can probably be attributed to the reluctance of the Jewish studio moguls to incur the ire of a society in which they still didn't feel entirely accepted. The film tracks Zola's early years, including his friendship with Paul Cezanne (Vladimir Sokoloff), and his uphill battle to expose in print the social ills that plagued France's lower classes. When success arrives with the publication of NANA, he garners an audience that can appreciate his exposés of the corruption of the nation's government, military, and business community. But it's in the Herculean effort to clear Captain Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut), a victim of anti-Semitism who had been framed on charges of military espionage and sent to Devil's Island, that Zola reveals in full force the tremendous courage that undergirded his achievment. High production values, an excellent cast, and an intelligent script all add to the film's extraordinary quality.
1937 - Academy Awards - Best Picture Winner
1937 - Academy Awards - Best Supporting Actor Winner
1937 - Academy Awards - Best Adapted Screenplay Winner
Main Cast & Crew
William Dieterle - Director
Second in the series of William Dieterle's Warners biopics, THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA stars Paul Muni as the title character. It opens as the writer and impassioned social activist, who shares a garret with Paul Cezanne, struggles against a censorious society to get his controversial work published. He makes his name exposing the wretched conditions of the lower classes but plunges into the battle of his life, defending the innocence of scapegoat Captain Dreyfus, who had been railroaded into exile on Devil's Island by the anti-Semitism of the French military.
Theatrical release: October 2, 1937. Although a key reason for Captain Dreyfus's persecution by the French army was that he was Jewish, the word "Jewish" is never used in the film. The story of the Dreyfus trial was told again in 1958's I ACCUSE!, which starred José Ferrer as Dreyfus and Emlyn Williams as Zola. THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2000.