The Life of Emile Zola

Director: William Dieterle
Year Released: 1937
Rating: 2.0

First half-hour is devoted to Zola's early days in poverty, rooming with some schlep named Paul Cezanne, trying to get his groundbreaking literary works published. The rest of the movie skips over some forty (or so) years of his life, when he's old and bearded, and with his masterpieces already written, coming to the defense of an innocent man. This is really unevenly spaced out: while I'm not advocating two full hours of struggling writer making his name known, the shift to the Dreyfus case is a severe left turn, and though it's made utterly clear that Zola was a champion of free-speech and had to put his reputation on the line for Dreyfus, the last hour-and-a-half give little for Paul Muni (as Zola) to do, aside from swaying back and forth, unsteadily, like a human bowling pin, adjusting his glasses or 'ho-ho'-ing like Santa Claus.