The Life of Emile Zola (Dieterle, 1937)

An overly rosy, stoic and sincere biopic of French author Emile Zola (Paul Muni), which focuses the brunt of it’s attention on his involvement with the treason case of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus. While the film meanders a long for the first hour, charting the rise of Zola’s novels as social critiques of French institutions, the real drama begins in the second half with the well written courtroom scenes (even though the court is run like a side-show). Muni’s last speech is especially pertinent, warning of the abuses of power by the military and politicians in covering up errors of moral judgment. Still, The Life of Emile Zola is a completely safe Best Picture Winner, more so than most I’ve seen. I can’t believe this took the prize over McCarey’s brilliant The Awful Truth. Goes to show not much has changed with Oscar in the seventy years since. Comedy still gets pushed under the rug for straightforward drama.

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