The Life of Emile Zola (1937)



Critic Consensus: Well-written, well-meaning and solidly acted, The Life of Emile Zola film may ultimately be more earnest than dramatically engaging.

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Movie Info

The second of Paul Muni's biographical films for Warner Bros., the Oscar-winning The Life of Emile Zola is by far the best, even allowing for the dramatic license taken with the material. When first we meet French novelist and essayist Zola, he is starving in a Parisian garret with his painter friend, Paul Cezanne. Each time Zola attempts to write "the truth," he is stymied by governmental censors. Still, he is able to achieve both fame and fortune with the publication of "Nana," an unardorned … More

Rating: G
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By: ,
Written By: Norman Reilly Raine, Heinz Herald, Geza Herczeg
In Theaters:
On DVD: Feb 1, 2005
MGM Home Entertainment


as Emile Zola

as Capt. Alfred Dreyfus

as Lucie Dreyfus

as Alexandrine Zola

as Maitre Labori

as Charpentier

as Col. Picquart

as Anatole France

as Maj. Dort

as Commander of Paris

as Maj. Walsin-Esterhaz...

as Paul Cezanne

as Chief of Staff

as Maj. Henry

as Monsieur Delagorgue

as Pierre Dreyfus

as Jeanne Dreyfus

as Minister of War

as Col. Sandherr

as Assistant Chief of S...

as Cavaignac

as Van Cassell

as Mr. Richards

as Helen Richards

as Madame Zola

as Georges Clemenceau

as Capt. Guignet

as Brucker

as M. Perrenx

as Senator Scheurer-Kes...

as Albert

as Madame Charpentier

as Chief Censor

as Mathieu Dreyfus

as Maj. D'Aboville

as Prefect of Police

as Commander of Paris

as Gen. Gillian

as Lieutenant

as Schwartzkoppen

as Gen. Gillian
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Life of Emile Zola

All Critics (23) | Top Critics (7)

The most distinguished and most important contribution to the screen this year.

Full Review… | February 17, 2015
New York Daily News
Top Critic

Last week Warner Brothers released a movie which is probably the outstanding prestige picture of the season. It is also one of the best shows.

Full Review… | February 17, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

The film is destined to box office approval of the most substantial character. It is finely made and merits high rating as cinema art and significant recognition as major showmanship.

Full Review… | January 28, 2008
Top Critic

This act of altruism on behalf of the brothers Warner was rewarded with the best picture Oscar for 1937; it isn't so much bad as utterly, magisterially bland.

Full Review… | December 12, 2006
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Carefully mounted, well directed and acted, but basically the sort of well-meaning pap out of which Oscars are made.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

A great and valuable and stirring film document.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Life of Emile Zola

This film is based on the life/work of French writer and activist Emile Zola. It starts out as a stand biopic, but then becomes a stirring courtroom drama, as it focuses on one of the most important events of Zola's life: his condemnation of antisemitism that led to the wrongful accusement of army officer Alfred Dreyfuss, in what is known as the Dreyfuss Affair. Through tireless determination and effort, Zola helped to get Dreyfus exonerated, though he himself was wrongfully charged with libel, mostly because of corruption and shady doings.

I had known little about Zola before seeing this, and was only marginally familiar with the Dreyfus Affair. The good thing about this movie is that you can still appreciate it without needing in depth knowledge prior to seeing it.

It takes a fair amount of liberties with things, and unfortunately it fails to really point the finger at antisemitism, though it makes up for it by being a very stinging condemnation of mob mentality instead. Aside from that, this is a fine film filled with great music from Max Steiner, and some really goosd performances from Paul Muni and many of the supporting players, many who sometimes upstage him.

I enjoyed this, but I might need to give it a second viewing, as I kept getting interrupted and didn't get to enjoy it in piece. For an oldie (depsite its flaws) it's pretty good. Give it a watch.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer


Creaky biopic of an interesting and worthwhile story. Keeping in perspective when it was made the film is not bad, Muni a fine actor when not in costume, say in Chain Gang, brings the hambone out as Zola ages and many of the rest of the cast are stiff and overly grand. However it is incredible that this middling film won Best Picture over the original A Star is Born, Stage Door and the Awful Truth!!

jay nixon

Super Reviewer


Paul Muni is so good I'd have to invent a new vocabulary to adequately describe his performance. Fantabulous. Outstandnistic. Wonderical.

Randy Tippy

Super Reviewer

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