The Life of Emile Zola (1937)















If you hadn't figured it out by the title, "The Life of Emile Zola" chronicles the life of French controversial and political writer, Emile Zola. Growing up and barely surviving on the streets of Paris, Emile writes about the hypocrisies of the government.
When Emile is in his twenties or so, he gets a job as clerk for a book store/publishing company. When the censors let his boss know that his works are displeasing to the government because of their critical eye, Emile gets fired.
Throughout the course of the next several months he meets a woman who is fleeing the police and learns her story and then publishes Nana, which goes on and makes a huge success.
Now with a blank check, Emile writes several more books and becomes a very prolific writer; but he's forgotten something—the reason why he originally began writing, to expose the hypocrisies of the time.
Another story starts taking place, one involving the government and the army. There is a traitor among the army, someone is leaking classified information. Instead of doing a thorough check, those in power immediately blame a certain Mr. Dreyfus of the crime. He is sentenced to a life of imprisonment and then exiled to an island to live out the rest of his days. Even though Dreyfus proclaims his innocence many times, the people just don't hear his cry.
Dreyfus's wife comes to Emile and pleads with him and convinces him to write about this case and prove her husband's innocence.
Emile knows that this will land him in court against the most powerful figures of the time, but he does it anyway—it's a matter of principle.
The court room setting is very hostile towards Emile and often cries of "Down with Zola" are heard ringing throughout the trial. But Emile wants to stick with his guns and he does; but it might not turn out the way you expected it to.
"The Life of Emile Zola" is the precursor to works like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and even "A Few Good Men". Paul Muni is strangely charismatic and likable as Emile though sometimes he becomes a little melodramatic.
The court room scenes are the best of the movie, but it takes a while to get to them and they aren't long enough.
This time piece has a few flaws, the French nation is all played by British actors. The accents are misleading, essentially everyone in this film is British trying to be French.
There's also a matter of everyone looking exactly alike. Take twelve men who are critical to the plot and make them the same height and the same build and give them all mustaches and a law will come into play—men with mustaches all look alike.
The upper lip growth is spared upon no man in this picture—glorious, handlebar, luscious mustaches with curls in them and waxed tips...I think I've seen enough mustache for the rest of my life.
While "The Life of Emile Zola" is a remarkable attempt at greatness it falls short of the mark but that doesn't stop it from being a undoubtably solid classic.


Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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