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My review of The Life of Emile Zola

April 28, 2014
I just finished watching the 1937 Best Picture Oscar winner The Life of Emile Zola, starring Paul Muni as the French author and social activist. It is all very earnest, as biographical films from the 30s often were. That is not to say it is bad though. Not at all. Muni portrays Zola as a somewhat cantankerous firebrand, calling attention to societal wrongs, such as the main focus of the film, the Dreyfus affair. At one point, when Zola is on trial for speaking against the French Army and their treatment of Alfred Dreyfus, Muni gives a long, impassioned, and impressive speech in defense of himself, Dreyfus, and justice to the jury, who sentences him to prison anyway. Joseph Schildkraut won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his sympathetic portrayal of Alfred Dreyfus. Gale Sondergaard, Donald Crisp, Gloria Holden, and Louis Calhern also lend fine support in this well-made and quite good film. Two movies from this same year automatically come to mind as being better than this Best Picture winner however: Make Way for Tomorrow and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Next up: Laurence Olivier becomes a double Oscar winner for producing and starring in 1948’s Best Picture, Hamlet.

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