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

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Movie Info

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.

Cast & Crew

Paul Muni
Émile Zola
Joseph Schildkraut
Captain Alfred Dreyfus
Gale Sondergaard
Lucie Dreyfus
Gloria Holden
Alexandrine Zola
Donald Crisp
Maitre Labori
John Litel
Charpentier
Henry O'Neill
Colonel Picquart
Morris Carnovsky
Anatole France
Heinz Herald
Writer (Story)
Geza Herczeg
Writer (Story)
Max Steiner
Original Music
Tony Gaudio
Cinematographer
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Critic Reviews for The Life of Emile Zola

All Critics (33) | Top Critics (10) | Fresh (27) | Rotten (6)

Audience Reviews for The Life of Emile Zola

  • Jun 14, 2014
    In 1862, Emile Zola(Paul Muni) and his friend Paul Cezanne(Vladimir Sokoloff) are a pair of starving and freezing artists trying to survive in Paris. Even a regular job in a bookstore does not last long for Zola. What does change Zola's fortunes is an opportune encounter with Nana(Edna O'Brien Moore) after they save her from arrest by the police. After which, she relays her story of woe which inspires Zola to write a novel. That turns out to be the first of many bestsellers for him and the beginning of a very comfortable life. And then there is the case of Alfred Dreyfus(Joseph Schildkraut). Despite its title, "The Life of Emile Zola" is really not a biopic. Rather, its first thirty minutes about Zola's rise to fame just serves as a prelude to its take on the Alfred Dreyfus case which might have been still controversial at the time this was made. As such, this movie makes an excellent case for the role of the artist in society being a socially conscious one to which it provides a prime example. That comes complete with rousing speeches, very good performances and crowd scenes which Shakespeare would be proud of.
    Walter M Super Reviewer
  • Nov 25, 2013
    Muni's triumphant portrayal of Emile Zola is good but it feels dated. It is well presented and filmed for its period and Muni done well but there is an exaggerated feel to the portrayal.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Mar 14, 2011
    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 W Super Reviewer
  • Jun 10, 2010
    Despite a very long and slow courtroom scene in the middle, Paul Muni masterfully handles his role and leaves you feeling inspired. The Life of Emile Zola is a nice little Hollywood classic that you can enjoy and knock off your list. 89/100
    Simeon D Super Reviewer

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