ming movie reviews

in about 100 words or less

The Life of Émile Zola (1937)

US 116m, B&W
Director: William Dieterle; Cast: Paul Muni, Gloria Holden, Gale Sondergaard, Joseph Schildkraut

emilezolaThe Life of Émile Zola is a biographical film that is based on the life and writing of the popular 19th century French author. As Zola, Paul Muni gives an impressive performance as the always optimistic and eccentric author who is eager to take up political causes in his work. The film portrays Zola’s early years as a struggling artist whose initial success came with the publication of “Nana” – a bawdy book about a prostitute who suggested that she was still good-looking if you took a quick look and the light was low. In his later years, a period on which most of the film is based, Zola is initially portrayed as content to savor his life’s accomplishments until taking up the cause of Army captain Alfred Dreyfus who was falsely accused of treason and condemned to Devil’s Island. Although many of the details of the actual case were altered, including the role which anti-Semitism played a part in the framing of Dreyfus, the film’s message of the importance of justice and self-sacrifice for that end is overwhelmingly positive (Klaus Ming February 2011).

3 comments on “The Life of Émile Zola (1937)

  1. Dave Becker

    I actually caught this one for the first time about 4-5 months ago. Paul Muni is an actor who was phenomenally big in the 1930’s (he was one of the first stars, perhaps THE first, to be given a contract that included script approval), and it’s because of movies like EMILE ZOLA that he was so well-regarded.

    Also check out I WAS A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG, a movie that actually resulted in social change (helping to abolish the southern chain gang system once and for all).

  2. Klaus

    I’d never heard of this film until reading the 1001 List, nor did I really know who Paul Muni was. While I enjoyed Emile Zola, I think I prefer the “Fugitive from a Chain Gang” film.


  3. TSorensen

    I concur on both. Well, basically I knew none of the movies, nor actors (except for the classic comedians) of the thirties before I started on the list. Also, while Emile Zola is good, FfaCG is awesome, one of the best of the early thirties film.

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This entry was posted on 02/07/2011 by in 1001 List, 1930s, All and tagged .
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