I love the Academy Awards and last year I realized how few of the “Best Picture” winners I’d actually seen. So I made it a goal to see all 83 winners and blog my thoughts about them along the way.

Why did it win? Should another movie have won instead? Has it become a beloved classic or do many of you not even recognize the title? I invite you, my friends and guests, to comment along with me. Do you agree/disagree? I should be fair and place a SPOLIER ALERT on this blog since I’ll be writing about various parts of the movie. So read at your own risk…

I have often told people that I have movie amnesia… I can see a movie and forget all about it years later. So for that reason, I am re-watching the 27 I’ve seen before. That said, if no one visits or reads my blog and I basically perform the online equivalent of talking to a brick wall, that’s fine; if for nothing else, it’ll be my own reminder. Enjoy!

And the Oscar goes to…

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Life of Emile Zola, 1937

Not Rated

The beginning of this film starts with a paragraph stating that “This production has its basis in history. The historical basis, however, has been fictionized for the purposes of this picture.” First of all, I’m pretty sure they made up the word ‘fictionized’. Second, what? I hate when movies and books write things like “Aside from the actual people, events, and locales in the story, all names, incidents, and places are used fictitiously.” Didn’t they just use synonyms of those words and basically say, “Everything is true and real, except for when it isn’t”?? Great, that cleared it right up.

This story is apparently about the 19th century French literary novelist Emile Zola. He devoted his life to writing “the truth” but often got criticized and censored by the government.  Dreyfus, an officer in the French Army, gets ridiculously and unjustly convicted of treason and exiled to the infamous isolated French prison on Devil’s Island. When Zola discovers the truth, he risks his reputation (and life) to setting the record straight. The corrupt court system doesn’t believe him either, unfortunately. I won’t give away the ending in case you’d like to see it. Perhaps I’m becoming more of a fan of older movies, but I actually enjoyed watching this film too. The storyline kept me captivated. If you find yourself in a mood to watch an old black & white film, I would recommend it.

As to be expected from films based on actual people and events, some liberties were taken with the screenplay. Supposedly, part of the real reason Dreyfus was railroaded, was because he was a Jew, but this is never mentioned in the film; I don’t know why.

Paul Muni, who plays Zola, was only in his early forties when he starred in this film. I found that fascinating because he certainly looks much older with the age make-up and hair. Spencer Tracy won the Best Actor award this year. I didn’t see his winning performance, but I thought Paul Muni definitely deserved his nomination at least. [I’m not sure why that is the movie poster (above)… I guess it does kind of resemble the actor who plays Zola, but he never looked that way/young in the movie. Here’s the more common movie cover:]

I recognized the man who played the cowardly General as the man who played Grandpa in “Meet Me in St. Louis” seven years later. I LOVE that movie and loved his character, so it was difficult for me to see him as such an ass in this film. (Sign of a good actor, though). According to imdb.com, he was in nineteen movies in 1937! The guy must’ve lived on a movie set. He was also in “Gone with the Wind” and I look forward to recognizing him in that film when I re-watch it for this blog.

This film was up against “The Awful Truth”, “Captains Courageous”, “Dead End”, “The Good Earth”, “In Old Chicago”, “Lost Horizon”, “One Hundred Men and a Girl”, “Stage Door”, and “A Star is Born”. Geez, were there any other films made that year that felt left out? In addition to Best Picture, it also won Best Supporting Actor (the man who played Dreyfus, which was well deserved) and Best Screenplay.

There was one Oscar snub in my opinion: Disney’s first full-length animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” came out in 1937. It was only nominated for Best Score (and it lost!!) but I think it should’ve been thrown in the huge pile of Best Picture nominees for its feat of animation. And supposedly, it was surprising that one of the biggest romantic tearjerkers of all time, “Camille” starring Greta Garbo, wasn’t also nominated for Best Picture.


When Zola finally takes the stand in the dramatic court room scene, he pleads with the jury not to be blinded by fear, pressure, or ignorance. He swears on his life that Dreyfus is innocent. It is quite a lengthy monologue, but definitely a climactic moment of the movie.


Zola’s motto in life and the theme of the film: Let truth conquer.

People can battle for justice in more than one way. The military use weapons. Authors, like Zola, use pens. Other citizens can attend protests, write letters, and pray, among other things.

Don’t give up fighting for what you believe. Even though it looked bleak, Zola risked his career for a man he never met because he believed in the power of honesty and righteousness.

At the end of the film, Zola’s longtime friend leaves the audience with this wisdom: “You who are enjoying today's freedoms, take to your hearts the words of Zola. Do not forget those who fought the battles for you and bought your liberty with their genius and blood. Do not forget them and applaud the lies of fanatical intolerance.”


  1. Didn't Walt Disney get 7 little oscars?

  2. Yes, two years later in 1939, he received an Honorary Academy Award (and seven mini ones) for his "significant screen innovation" and "pioneering a great new entertainment field".