The Life of Emile Zola

Synopsis: Fictionalized account of the life of famed French author Emile Zola. As portrayed in the film, he was a penniless writer sharing an apartment in Paris with painter Paul Cezanne when he finally wrote a best-seller, Nana. He has always had difficulty holding onto a job as he is quite outspoken, being warned on several occasions by the public prosecutor that he risks charges if he does not temper his writings. The bulk of the film deals with his involvement in the case of Captain Alfred Dreyfus who was falsely convicted of giving secret military information to the Germans and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devils Island. Antisemitism played an important role in the real-life case but is hardly mentioned in the film. Even after the military found definitive evidence that Dreyfus was innocent, the army decided to cover it up rather than face the scandal of having arbitrarily convicted the wrong man. Zola's famous letter, J'Accuse (I Accuse), led to his own trial for libel where he was fo
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director(s): William Dieterle
Production: MGM Home Entertainment
  Won 3 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 7 nominations.
Rotten Tomatoes:
116 min

It's no use, Emile.

The place is like a sieve.

It would take all the rags in Paris

to stuff half its holes.


Vast. Motionless.

A gigantic mother brooding over her

millions of children, good and bad.

It's magnificent, Cezanne.

You must paint it.

As someday I shall write it.

No, Zola. It's hopeless.

You know that people don't want

to see the stark face of truth.

They would much prefer

perfumed lights like these.

They ought to be burned

like something unclean.

Why, Paul, that's splendid.

Why didn't you think of that before?

We shall have a fire!

- We could sell them and...

- What?

And expose others

to their stinking hypocrisies?

No, my friend. We'll burn them...

...and let their lying pages

warm the bones of men of truth!

There we are.

Well, look at that. Even the old stove

rebels at the vile trash.

Close that window!

- You want me to catch cold?

- But we'll suffocate.

That'll be better than perishing

from a draft.

Oh, you and your drafts.

It's the concierge...

...for the rent.

- He'll kick us into the street.

Don't let him in. Tell him I'm in bed.

Some horrible disease.

It's catching. Anything.

- Who is it?

- It's Emile's mother.

- Come in, Madame Zola.

- Thanks, Paul.

Emile, why are you in bed?

Are you ill?

It's tearing my heart out to see you

living like this, and now it must end.

Nonsense, Maman. I'm an

independent gentleman of letters...

...and soon the world will recognize me.


- Alexandrine, come in.

- Alexandrine, here? Where?

Alexandrine! Darling.

Oh, darling, we have

wonderful news for you.

- You have a job.

- You have a job.

A job?

I have a job?

Cezanne! Did you hear? I have a job!

What kind of job?

I'm not going to sell my talents

to any lying...

This is a job with La Rue,

the great book publisher.

You're to be a clerk. Oh, darling,

we can get married now.

That's marvelous!

Now I shall have time to finish my book.

Maybe even get La Rue to publish it.

Cezanne, take Maman's coat.

Paul, get meat and bread!

- What is it?

- Emile, I hate to trouble you like this...

...but the butcher refuses us

any more credit.

- You told him we'd settle at month's end.

- But he wants it now.

And the landlord was very nasty

about the rent again this morning.

- Couldn't you ask for another advance?

- I've already had two advances this month.

- You're wanted in the office right away.

- Yes.

I'll do whatever I can.

Don't worry, dear.

This is the agent of police.

He has something to say.

Do you have a book called

The Confessions of Claude?

- Yes.

- The public prosecutor is highly displeased.

- Why?

- It is a bad book.

- Badly written?

- It is an offensive book.

- It will do great harm to public morals.

- Keep quiet.

We've been watching your writings,

young man.

You're a troublemaker. Your articles,

attacking our leading men of letters...

...the arts, criticizing the civic authorities.

Perhaps there's something

better for me to criticize?

I don't want any of your impudence.

You've got to stop it.

This is an official warning.

- I hope I won't have to come here again.

- You realize, monsieur...

...that his book was not published by me.

But it was written by your employee.

That makes you responsible under the law.

- Well.

- I didn't mean to get you into trouble.

Why do you write such muckraking stuff

when there are many pleasant things in life?

And many unpleasant things.

That's not your business while you work

for me. I should discharge you...

...but I'll give you one more chance.

- Thank you.

But from now on, you will tend strictly

to your work and stop writing trash.

- What? Is that a bad exchange for a job?

- A very bad exchange, Monsieur La Rue.

Here is your pay

up to the end of the month.

Get out.

- I'm very grateful to you.

- What?

For allowing me to devote

all my time to my writing.

Then go ahead with your scribbling.

And maybe a lean stomach

will teach you better!

But a fat stomach sticks out too far,

Monsieur La Rue.

It prevents you from seeing

what's going on around you.

While you grow fatter and richer

publishing your nauseating confectionary...

...I shall become a mole,

digging here, rooting there.

Stirring up the whole rotten mess

where life is hard, raw and ugly.

You will not like the smell of my books.

Neither will the public prosecutor.

But when the stench is strong enough,

maybe something will be done about it.

Good day!

You there! Hold on!

- Hold on!

- Stop yelling and let us sleep.

A woman just jumped into the river.

She's better off than all of these.

- Why weren't the safety doors closed?

- Safety doors?

- They don't waste money on safety doors.

- Hey, you!

Get away from here and stay away.

It is true. All these things are true.

I saw them with my own eyes.

Print this about the uproar

in the Chamber of Deputies.

The military clique howling Clemenceau

down because he told them that...

...the army was honeycombed with graft and

warned them not to provoke the Prussians.

I should bother.

They're only space-fillers at best.

I'll give you 10 franc for the lot.

Take it or leave it.

- But, monsieur, l...

- Ten franc.

Cecile! Antoinette! The police!

- Come on, get in there!

- Come on, get in here!

Out, out, out.


Sit here.

- The...

- Come along, you.

Sit still. This lady's with us.

- Leave her alone.

- Then what is her name?

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Norman Reilly Raine

Norman Reilly Raine (23 June 1894 – 19 July 1971) was an American screenwriter, creator of "Tugboat Annie" and winner of an Oscar for the screenplay of The Life of Emile Zola (1937). more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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