The Life of Emile Zola

The Life of Emile Zola
Biography, Drama
1937

Director: William Dieterle Cast: Paul Muni, Joseph Schildkraut, Gale Sondergaard, Gloria Holden, Donald Crisp, John Litel, Henry O’Neill, Morris Carnovsky, Louis Calhern, Ralph Morgan, Robert Barrat, Vladimir Sokoloff, Grant Mitchell, Harry Davenport, Erin O’Brien-Moore

Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Joseph Schildkraut); Best Screenplay (Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, Norman Reilly Raine)

Also Nominated For: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Muni); Best Director (William Dieterle); Best Original Story (Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg); Best Art Direction; Best Sound, Recording; Best Assistant Director (Russell Saunders); Best Music, Score

I First Saw In: 2015

Synopsis: The biopic of the famous French muckraking writer and his involvement in fighting the injustice of the Dreyfus Affair.

Did You Know? This was the first film to receive 10 Academy Award nominations.

Quotables: ZOLA: Each serves his country in his own way: one with a sword and one with a pen. Posterity will choose between your name and mine.

And now a Word from the Guise:
This dramatised recount of the Zola Trial and the Dreyfus Affair is frustrating in its truth. Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason and espionage by a court-martial of France. His trial was a sham, framed by his superior officers because he was Jewish. After much convincing by Lucie Dreyfus, Émile Zola wrote an open letter accusing French President Félix Faure and the government of France of antisemitism and of the unlawful jailing of Captain Dreyfus.

The film exposes the intransigence of the government, any government, their refusal to admit their own mistakes, their exploitation of the people, how they manipulate them with sentimentality to gain their trust and support. But the film doesn’t put sole responsibility onto the government and government officials; it also blames the people and fickleness of the “mob mentality”. When Dreyfus is first found guilty, the people take it upon themselves to crucify him. The moment he is exonerated, however, they are the first to sing his name in exaltation.

This is easily one of the best films I’ve watched so far in my Oscar Crusade. A true masterpiece of cinema.

Oscar Madness Ranking – ??? out of 233

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