The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
January 26, 2023 1:21 PM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] After struggling to establish himself, author Emile Zola (Paul Muni) wins success writing about the unsavory side of Paris and settles into a comfortable upper-class life. However, Zola's complacency is shaken when Jewish officer Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut) is imprisoned for being a spy. Realizing that Dreyfus is an innocent victim of anti-Semitism, Zola boldly pens a newspaper article exposing the truth, is charged with libel and must defend himself in a dramatic courtroom testimony.

Also starring Gale Sondergaard, Gloria Holden, Donald Crisp, Erin O'Brien-Moore, John Litel, Henry O'Neill, Morris Carnovsky, Louis Calhern, Ralph Morgan, Robert Barrat, Vladimir Sokoloff, Grant Mitchell, Harry Davenport, Robert Warwick, Charles Richman, Gilbert Emery, Walter Kingsford, Paul Everton, Montagu Love, Frank Sheridan, Lumsden Hare, Marcia Mae Jones, Florence Roberts, Dickie Moore, Rolla Gourvitch, Franklyn Farnum.

Directed by William Dieterle. Screenplay by Norman Reilly Raine, based on an earlier screenplay by Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg, which was itself based on Zola and His Time, a 1928 book by Matthew Josephson. Star Paul Muni, producer Hal Wallis, and director William Dieterle are also said to have contributed significantly to the script. Music by Max Steiner.

91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently available for digital rental in the US on multiple outlets. JustWatch listing.

An interesting artifact from the the years leading up to WWII, the film recounts a legal battle against anti-Semitism without using the words "Jew," "Jewish," "anti-Semitic," or "anti-Semitism." Jack Warner reportedly invited a Nazi consul to watch the film to approve its release.
posted by DirtyOldTown (1 comment total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had the very strange sense that the filmmakers ACTUALLY wanted to do a film about just the Dreyfus affair, but the current political vibe was one of the reasons why they used the Zola angle as a sort of prophylactic.

Oh, and they do actually briefly use the word "Jew" in writing - when Dreyfus' officers are discussing who might be the person they've found might be spying on them, they're huddled around a roster of officers - and the camera shows us the list, focusing on the line listing Dreyfus’ name, rank, and religion. “Here’s someone,” one of the officers says, “Dreyfus.” And – his finger taps the line directly under the word “Jew”.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:12 PM on January 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

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