#111 The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

This next film was not only a Best Picture winner of 1937 but the second film of the Biography genre to win Best Picture with the first being The Great Ziegfeld. The Life of Emile Zola is the true story of a French author who decides to defend a Jewish army officer accused of being a spy.

French author Emile Zola lives a comfortable life as a successful author as he teaches readers that life is not 100% beautiful in gay old Paris. As his books become a success, it seems that Zola is living the life. Then a little drama kicks in when the wife of an Army officer asks Zola to help her husband, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who is facing anti-semitic charges against him. It is interesting how the title of this film is not called “Emile Zola and the Dreyfus Affair” considering when I first think of the title, I think it will start out with Zola as a young boy with a sharp focus on his start in writing. The film considers the most pivotal moment of Emile Zola’s life to be when he defended this man that the police knew was innocent but still wanted him put away. We have seen Paul Muno, who plays Emile Zola himself, in I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang and Scarface. We know he can give heart-wrenching performances and it is easily demonstrated in this film; especially during the trial scene in which he gives his testimony towards Dreyfus. Muno kept wanting to do retakes of that scene despite nailing it on the first take. What a perfectionist! What did you think of that scene?

The Life of Emile Zola was the first film to receive ten nominations. It’s unfortunate that Paul Muno did not win Best Actor that year as he gave a tremendous performance. On the bright side, Joseph Schildkraut won Best Supporting Actor for the role of Dreyfus and the movie won Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Oh well! You can’t win ’em all like they say. Schildkraut was convinced that the Academy was not going to pay attention to The Life of Emile Zola so he stayed away from the ceremony. He got woken up to discover by an Academy representative that he was to accept his award and he made it in time! Way to go! This is a great film to see as we witness a man do a life-saving favor to a man without asking for anything in return and just how terribly hard it is to fight for justice. This was a great story to tell.

Here is a link to this biographical Best Picture film and please comment what you think:

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