The Life of Emile Zola
Directed by William Dieterle. US. 1937. NR. 116 minutes. Warner. 35mm.
Sun., February 19, 2017
This splendid biography of one of France’s most controversial writers, though in many parts fictionalized, remains quite true to the facts around its centerpiece: the libel trial that took place after Zola wrote “J’Accuse.” The trial rightly condemned the corruption and hypocrisy of the French military when it wrongfully accused Captain Louis Dreyfus of treason and then attempted a massive cover-up for their error. The film was a major success and garnered ten Oscar nominations (the most ever received up to that point), winning Best Picture Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Joseph Schildkraut, as Dreyfus). Paul Muni, as Zola, was nominated as Best Actor, but lost to Spencer Tracy (for Captains Courageous), in part because Muni had won the previous year for The Story of Louis Pasteur. If you are a history buff and/or a fan of fine acting, you owe it to yourself to come see this terrific production. (Bill Roth)
Print preserved by the Library of Congress.