The Life of Emile Zola

The Life of Emile Zola

William Dieterle (1937)



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This is one of a remarkable series of Warner Bros melodramatic biopics whose central performances were once considered prime examples of cinematic acting. Like Lon Chaney before him, Mr Paul Muni (as he was always billed), a former Yiddish Art Theater star, was never more convincing than when disguised with make-up and wigs, and here he makes a very creditable Zola in a dignified and distinguished movie that has only dated in its earnestness. Giving Muni a run for the acting honours, and collecting a best supporting actor Oscar, is Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Alfred Dreyfus. In its courageous exposé of anti-Semitism, this film can be seen today as part of the Warners social tradition, though interestingly the word "Jew" is never mentioned. Both picture and screenplay also rightly won Oscars that year. Erin O'Brien-Moore is notable as the inspiration behind Zola's Nana, but the great strength of the film is the re-creation of the Dreyfus case and the marvellous moment as Muni begins "J'accuse...".

Cast & Crew

Emile Zola Paul Muni
Lucie Dreyfus Gale Sondergaard
Captain Alfred Dreyfus Joseph Schildkraut
Alexandrine Zola Gloria Holden
Maître Labori Donald Crisp
Nana Erin O'Brien-Moore
Major Walsin-Esterhazy Robert Barrat
Charpentier John Litel
Colonel Picquart Henry O'Neill
Anatole France Morris Carnovsky
Major Dort Louis Calhern
Director William Dieterle
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Other Information

Language: EnglishBlack and white