Category Archives: 1930’s

12. Gone with the Wind (1939)

Director: Victor Fleming

Alex – 8.5  Elliot – 9.2  IMDB 8.2  Rotten Tomatoes 8.6

Alex’s Commentary:

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” is one of the most memorable lines in movie history. The “vulgar language” must have been shocking to a 1939 audience but certainly doesn’t reflect my feeling toward the movie.

Gone With the Wind could easily be compared to this generation’s Titanic (1997). Both films were wildly popular and based on historical events woven with a myriad of characters and a doomed love story. Fortunately, Rhett Butler leaves for a new life in Charleston instead of drowning. gwtw_r02_hd_clean_jw-006526Gone With the Wind may also be the film from the 1930’s that is most familiar to today’s movie goers. Of course, being our first Academy award winning film in Technicolor makes it much more accessible to audiences of today who view films in black and white with distain (I feel sorry for them as they don’t know the great movies they are bypassing – hopefully our blog has peaked their interest). Although not a definitive popularity measure, it is interesting that the well known Oscar winning film You Can’t Take It With You has slightly over 10,000 user reviews on IMDB, It Happened One Night and All Quiet On The Western Front have approximately 30,000 user reviews each but Gone With The Wind exceeds 110,000 user reviews (262,000 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes) – wow!

This film is truly epic both in its length (238 minutes) and grandeur. Not only does it introduce color cinema, it utilizes the medium to its full capacity. In fact, William Cameron Menzies won an honorary Academy Award for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood. The scenes of the Atlanta burning are awesome, and the scenes in the Civil War make-shift hospital are appropriately poignant. I’m sure the plantation panoramas and the magnificent shots of Scarlett silhouetted against the evening sky delighted the viewers of 1939 as much as it did me.

In addition to the film’s technical achievements, we are presented with a story of soap opera proportions based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel bolstered by a blockbuster cast of Hollywood’s finest. This film won 8 Academy Awards and was nominated for 5 others. With 13 nominations, this film became the most nominated and victorious film in the Academy’s early history. Gone With The Wind 4Vivien Leigh, the Best Actress winner, delivers a memorable portrayal as Scarlett O’Hara. Of course, when an actor’s dialogue comes from Sidney Howard’s Best Writing Screenplay melded with Victor Fleming’s Best Directing, the results should be stellar. My favorite award winning performance came from Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to be nominated and win an Oscar. Her portrayal of Mammy, the house servant, won her Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The emotion she evokes from her character is inspiring.

This is our third Clark Gable movie and the Hollywood idol provides a solid performance as Rhett Butler. Although he didn’t capture the Best Actor award, many 21st century movie viewers have difficulty distinguishing Clark Gable from Rhett Butler. Olivia de Havilland played the memorable milk toast Melanie Hamilton but lost as Best Actress in a Supporting Role to fellow cast member Hattie McDaniel. Leslie Howard plays Ashley Wilkes, Melanie’s husband and Scarlett’s unrequited love interest. How can I write my impressions of Gone With The Wind without mentioning Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy who famously states “Oh, Miss Scarlett, I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ babies” whereby Scarlett slaps her across the face. In fact, over almost four hours, Scarlett seems to slap a lot of people in the face.

Finally, I would be remiss not to comment on Max Steiner’s original musical score. The haunting melody draws you into the movie and one need only hear the first few bars of the score to immediately recognize it. Naturally, I had seen Gone With The Wind previously but this is the first time I’ve viewed it within the context of our journey through film history. I have a much greater appreciation for its groundbreaking achievements and its importance in the pantheon of film making history. As we enter the films of the 1940’s, I am anxious to see the continued evolution.

Elliot’s Commentary:

To round out the end of the 1930’s Best Picture Winners, we have perhaps the most epic film of its era, Gone with the Wind. In the sake of full disclosure, I have seen this film more than any of the other Best Picture winner pre-1970. Watching it again however, is never a chore. Despite its exceptional length, 238 minutes if you include overture, intermission, and exit music, this melodramatic David O’ Selznick production is an undisputed classic of American filmmaking. This movie and I also have a particular connection due to my undergraduate education at Emory University in Atlanta. I have been to the theater where the movie premiered, The Fabulous Fox Theater, and have been to Margaret Mitchell’s house. I even took a class offered at Emory that focused on Film and Segregation, which had several hours of lecture and discussion about the film and its portrayal of race. Honestly, I will always have an emotional connection with this film and it will clearly reflect in my analysis but “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The production of this film has several particular aspects that set it apart from previous Best Picture winners, particularly the fact that this film was in color. Gone-with-the-Wind-2The process of Technicolor added an even more epic quality to the highest grossing film in history in terms of inflation adjusted dollars. While James Cameron may try and dispute this fact, the staggering 196 million tickets sold for Gone with the Wind is unrivaled. That figure does include re-releases, which at least was not as profit-mongering as James Cameron and George Lucas’ re-releases of their classics in 3D. Rather than being redundant, I’ll wait till 1997’s review before panning Titanic’s re-release. I also want to point out one additional item of note before actually beginning this review; director Victor Fleming had perhaps the biggest one-two punch in cinematic history in 1939. On top of Gone with the Wind, Fleming also directed the other Technicolor titan of 1939, The Wizard of Oz.

A film of this epic length deserves an epic review, but I shall try to err on the side of brevity in order to not cast a disproportionate light on the film. The film opens with the trope of nostalgia highlighted by a generation that signified the last of a dying breed of Southern aristocracy. Our main heroine is Scarlett O’Hara, played by the incomparable Vivien Leigh who deserved every ounce of the golden statue she earned for her portrayal. Her line delivered at the conclusion of the first half of the film is perhaps one of my favorite moments in cinematic history. It is near impossible to not be moved as Scarlett on the brink of starvation curses to the sky, “As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

It would also be impossible to discuss Gone with the Wind without mentioning the stellar performance of Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. This is Gable’s third appearance in a best picture winner, and his portrayal of Rhett Butler is his most iconic role in his filmography despite the Best Actor snub. I could spend the review recounting endless Rhett Butler one-liners, but that feels a little bit contrite. Let me instead grace this review with some stray observations and thoughts, and one overarching imperative statement: See this film. I understand the time commitment it requires, but it is an important foundation of any film aficionado’s lexicon and a true masterpiece of early Hollywood.

This film is about land both metaphorically and literally, and in particular the land of the past. Gerald O’Hara (Thomas Mitchell) starts the film by describing to Scarlett that the only thing that matters is Tara. Tara is the name of the O’Hara’s plantation, but it is also Latin for Earth. While the Latin is spelled a little bit differently, Terra, this is clearly a metaphor from the Margaret Mitchell story that has a deeper significance than merely the O’Hara’s plantation. gwtw39After all, the Civil War was fought over state’s rights and what power a federal governing body should have over an individual’s property. Do not read that statement as a belittling of human rights and the slavery issue, which was also an instrumental issue in the secession of the Southern states. This value of property and land was a continuance of a tradition that had lost traction in the progression of society, and the South vehemently wished to protect their neo-aristocracy. Rhett Butler describes the issues with waging war with the North in his sentiment that “all we [the South] have is cotton and slaves and arrogance.” This statement represents a clear foreshadowing of the impending disaster that will accompany the ill-fated war for independence.

This film is an effective melodrama and emotionally manipulative tragedy. Given the amount of character development in the film, it is hard to watch awful things happen to the characters that we have become so attached to. In particular the fates of Bonnie Blue Butler and Melanie Hamilton cut the audience to the bone. Some of the special effects, like Gerald’s riding accident, are a tad dated, however the magnificent cinematography highlighted by the piercing red background allow us to forgive these insignificant miscues. Honestly, some of the freeze frames of this film could easily be paintings, especially the beautifully depicted silhouette of Rhett and Scarlett against the backdrop of a burning Atlanta. One of the most noticeable uses of a crane shot in our films thus far, also provides a jarring display of the magnitude of the wounded soldiers littering the streets in the aftermath of the Battle of Atlanta.

While I will try and not rant on this issue, I want to let it be known that I don’t like Ashley Wilkes, and don’t understand his appeal to Scarlett. I understand he is the man that she wants because she cannot have him, but how could you ever possibly shun Clark Gable for such a weak-willed man. Also, I know that this takes place in the Antebellum South/ Civil War Era/ Reconstruction-era but Ashley and Melanie are cousins and that will always weird me out. I know it’s a family tradition and an effort to keep Twelve Oaks in the Wilkes family tree, but that family tree is going to have a lot of genetic problems at this rate. I understand that Ashley is important to the tragic plotline and I’m not recommending for his role in Scarlett’s life to be changed, but I will never enjoy watching Ashley’s storyline. There is a perfect sense of irony when Scarlett is relegated to the duty of midwife to help birth Ashley and Melanie’s child, especially with the burning of Atlanta in the background. Ashley is a good vehicle for showing the development of Scarlett from a self-indulgent Southern belle at a barbeque at Twelve Oaks, to a strong independent woman. Scarlett is without a doubt the strongest female role that we have seen thus far in our film journey, and her transformation from helplessness to murderer is quite the paradigm shift.

Lastly, I cannot talk about Gone with the Wind without mentioning the issues I have with race portrayal in this film. While I can try and pretend that the film’s portrayal of Blacks is merely dated, the social activist in me wants to scream out for justice. This film was made before the Civil Rights movement and I feel as though Hollywood has shown a historical tendency to make caricatures of black culture and speech patterns. Honestly, I feel as though that tendency still exists in today’s film going experience but in a different format (Tyler Perry I’m looking at you), but that is a different rant. 702b8907f32aff4db544dadc0f032a56The role of Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) at least provided characterization and dimension for a change, compared to previous portrayals of black servants with no inkling of depth. I am very proud of the Academy for giving Hattie McDaniel the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, because she delivered her performance with such power and grace that she demanded her accolades. Hattie was also the first black person to ever win an Academy Award, so she is certainly a trailblazer in the white-dominated Hollywood world. However, not all parts of the country were as accepting of McDaniel’s race as Hollywood. The Fox Theater in Atlanta refused to allow her to attend the premiere of the film because it was a White’s only theater, a fact that will always be a blemish on that fantastic venue. The portrayal of Prissy (Butterfly McQueen) was not as forgiving as that of Mammy, and has very patronizing emphasis on her high-pitched voice and child-like timidity.

While there are clear issues with this film in regards to race, however from a filmmaking and historical standpoint this film is classic in every sense of the word. I conclude with a reprise of an aforementioned imperative statement: See this film.

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11. You Can’t Take It With You (1938)

Director:   Frank Capra

Alex – 8.5   Elliot – 8.7   IMDB 8.0      Rotten Tomatoes 7.4

Alex’s Commentary:

 It’s hard to imagine a person not liking a Frank Capra movie. You Can’t Take It With You incorporates the familiar Capra themes of the inherent goodness of man (unless you work for the IRS) and money is not the root of happiness. These themes resonated with Capra when he saw the George S. Kaufman / Moss Hart play on Broadway.  He also immediately recognized its potential appeal to the depressions era crowds that would eventually flock to the movie.

This is our second Capra movie that has garnered both the Best Picture and Best Director honors. Although I enjoyed the romantic tension displayed by Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night more than the budding romance between James Stewart and Jean Arthur,  You Can’t Take It With You is still considerably fun.lionel barrymore, james stewart, jean arthur & edward arnold - you can't take it with you 1938 The film has a wonderful script that provides a vehicle for the all-star cast to display their theatrical talents. Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore) plays the role of the family patriarch and purveyor of homespun philosophies of life. The story juxtaposes wealthy Wall Street financiers with a neighborhood coping with a decimated economy. The presentation of high unemployment and dissatisfaction with the economy could easily be an allegory for a present-day 1% versus 99% Occupy movement. Hopefully, today’s economy will have a Capra-inspired happy ending.

A young James Stewart offers a good performance and displays his acting potential which will continue to evolve as we explore his future Academy Award winning films. On the other hand, Jean Arthur is at the top of her game. It’s difficult to articulate the qualities that make Jean Arthur one of my favorite actresses but the combination of attractive girl-next-door looks coupled with a spunky good-natured sense of humor is infectious. Of course, a screwball comedy needs an entire cast of screwball characters, and this film delivers. Among the numerous residents inhabiting the Vanderhof household are Ann Miller, the accomplished dancer who plays a bad dancer, Donald Meek as the eccentric inventor,  Mischa Auer who plays Russian dance instructor Kolenkhov, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, as the resident “on relief.” Obviously, not all of the character portrayals would be considered politically correct but this was a different era and clearly not meant maliciously.

Much of You Can’t Take It With You feels contemporary. The story holds up well and surprisingly does not feel dated. I would be remiss to mention that there were multiple scenes that had me laughing hysterically.  You Can’t Take It With You is a feel good classic 1930’s film that deserves to be on your watch list if you have yet to experience it.

Elliot’s Commentary:

Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You is a timeless classic, with a message and dialogue that is as relevant today as it was in 1938.  You Can’t Take It With You has more a poignant message than Capra’s previous winner, romantic comedy It Happened One Night.  Frank Capra is also the second director thus far to win the Academy Award for Best Picture twice, the first being Frank Lloyd.  However, the talent of the prolific Capra puts him in a league of his own.  James-Stewart-in-You-Can-t-Take-It-With-You-james-stewart-29986512-1067-800Besides his two Best Picture wins, Capra has also picked up two Best Director wins for the same films.  On a personal note, Capra directed one of my favorite films of all time, Arsenic and Old LaceWhile I could rant about Capra for 1000 more words, I should probably go back to the purpose of this blog and discuss the film.  You Can’t Take It With You comes from a rare breed of filmmaking that has the power to evoke a wide array of emotions in a viewer.  I was laughing, I was happy, I was sad, I was angry. It was as if I was a marionette and Capra stood above me as a puppeteer who manipulated my emotional responses for the entire 126 minutes of the film’s running time.

The title of this film actually stems from a colloquial rephrasing of the scriptural verse 1 Timothy 6:7 “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”  This is fitting of both Capra’s religious beliefs as well as the tone of the film, which could easily be considered a modern-day parable.  The film was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning Drama penned by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, and is a stylized morality play criticizing the impact that the over-emphasis of wealth incurs on the human psyche.  Perhaps the iconic rapper, Notorious B.I.G., described the concept best in his song “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” While Capra’s own life embodies a Horatio Alger story, his roots allowed him to gain a different perspective on the role of wealth in human happiness.

The film is centered on the romance of Alice Sycamore (Jean Arthur) and Tony Kirby (James “Jimmy” Stewart), as the couple seeks acceptance of their relationship from their polarized parents.  The Kirby’s are the banking kings on Wall Street, whereas the Sycamore’s have rejected the self-indulgent world of capitalism to focus on their individualized creative pursuits and whims.  Though not paupers by any means, the Sycamore’s have rejected pursuing fields that do not make them happy and instead engage in businesses that allow their creativity to thrive.  This creative hotbed has also attracted outsiders to settle down within their abode, as evidenced by a particularly zany exchange of dialogue between their former ice delivery man and a new recruit where the delivery man states that “[he] came to make a delivery nine years ago, and has been [there] ever since.”  The Sycamore’s collect stamps, write plays, play the xylophone and harmonica, dance, make candy, and make fireworks as well engage in whatever hobbies du-jour tickle their fancy. The only real exception in the family is Alice who is working as Tony Kirby’s secretary in the Kirby Company.  Tony is the Vice President of the company but only through nepotism, and has a clear disinterest in the family business.

The film has several key movements, first the establishment of the characters, then the meeting of the family, and finally the trials and tribulations of a prohibited love. One of my favorite scenes in the film comes during the meeting of the two families in which Anthony P. Kirby (Edward Arnold), Tony’s father, meets the Sycamore’s dance instructor, Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer).  Anthony tells Kolenkhov that he used to wrestle, and Kolenkhov responds by flipping Mr. Kirby on his back and pinning him.  The suddenness of the action and the body type of the elderly Mr. Kirby is enough to make anyone with a sense of humor break out in laughter.  I’m not usually a fan of slap-stick comedy, but Capra manages to incorporate some slap-stick gags in a surprisingly artful fashion.  you-cant-take-it-with-you-prayerThe film also changes its tone substantially in a jail scene in which the entire cast is incarcerated.  As the indignant Anthony P. Kirby rails into Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), Alices’s Grandpa, for the unpleasantness of the situation, Martin goes on a verbose rant filled with scathing criticism of both Mr. Kirby and his capitalist way of life.  He describes that Kirby’s money and power have not made him any friends, and that he has forgotten what happiness even feels like.  Using the metaphor of a harmonica, a relic of Kirby’s carefree past, Mr. Vanderhof dares Kirby to try and renounce his selfish ways and attempt to be a father and a human being for once in his life.  Vanderhof’s point is further solidified during the sentencing of the two parties for crimes of disturbing the peace and manufacturing fireworks without a permit.  While Kirby has four lawyers to represent the three members of his family, Vanderhof has a courtroom full of friends and neighbors to provide moral support.  It was hard not to choke up during a particularly joyous scene in the courtroom as Vanderhoff’s supporters take up a collection and pay off his 100 dollar fine.

This film is a fantastic story, with a great cast, and a great message.  The only complaint I had about this film was the racial stereotyping of the “help” in the house.  However in this era of filmmaking, these patronizing portrayals of Blacks were unfortunately common place. It is important to recognize the time period in which the films that we view were made, because these racial portrayals were tame compared to peer productions.  Honestly if you are reading this review and have never seen the film, go out and see it.  I promise that you will not be disappointed.  I don’t care which demographic that you represent, this thought-provoking and enchanting film is truly a classic of American cinema and should not overlooked.

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10. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)

Director:   William Dieterle

Alex – 8.0   Elliot – 8.1  IMDB 7.3      Rotten Tomatoes 7.0

Alex’s Commentary:

The Life of Emile Zola was a pleasant surprise. I was unfamiliar with this film’s protagonist, Emile Zola, as well as actor, Paul Muni, who was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Zola. The movie traces the life of the prominent French writer from his early years as a staving writer sharing a Parisian flat with his childhood friend Paul Cezanne, to becoming a popular and financially successful literary figure.  The film ultimately discloses the course of events leading to his intense criticism, vindication, and untimely death in 1902,

Although I felt the movie progressed rather slowly for its first hour, the second hour was thoroughly engrossing. Once the story of Alfred Dreyfus was woven into the plot, the power of the film and its message became evident. 77080-004-A39A3982Dreyfus was the Jewish artillery officer in the French army who was falsely accused of treason. After his innocence was made known to the French military leaders, they decided to remain silent lest the French people lose faith in the military. The accusation of Dreyfus was based in antisemitism, as were efforts to maintain his sentence of life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Interestingly, the only indication that Dreyfus’ religion led to his indictment was a military officer pointing to the word Jew on the Captain’s military record. No mention of Jews or Judaism is ever spoken. The movie presented the best courtroom scenes we have seen thus far and Paul Muni, as well as his defense attorney, present rousing orations. Joseph Schildkraut won a Supporting Actor Oscar as the wrongly accused Captain Alfred Dreyfus

For viewers interested in early filmic interpretations and presentations of courtroom drama, exploration and exploitation of mob mentality, and the military authority’s corruption and manipulation of the chain of command, this film is up your alley. Although I question the historical accuracy of some of the events depicted, the story is nevertheless entertaining.

Elliot’s Commentary:

The Life of Emile Zola is our second biopic that we have viewed thus far, and a significantly stronger representative of the genre than The Great ZiegfeldI do have a confession to make in regards to Emile Zola, I had never heard about the author until I saw this film.  After watching the film, I did do a small amount of research about the author to supplement my knowledge as well as to assess the accuracy of historical information in the film’s portrayal.  As with all films in Hollywood based upon historical events, there has to be a certain amount of manipulation of a story to make it fit into the recognized tropes of the narrative experience.  This manipulation at times can affect the credibility of a film as a work of non-fiction; however, The Life of Emile Zola does not portray any glaring historical inaccuracies that would affect the film’s overarching message.

The film can be divided into two into two main segments: the life of Emile Zola prior to the Dreyfus Affair, and Dreyfus Affair as told through the point of view of Emile Zola.  For those of you who have never been to Hebrew School, studied Anti-Semitism, or studied late 19th century/early 20th century French history, the Dreyfus Affair is one of the most preeminent court cases in French history.  The Dreyfus Affair details the trial and conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus on charges of treason against France. emile_zola_photo1 The Jewish captain was indicted with no evidence of these charges by the French Military courts and banished to Devil’s Island in French Guyana. Despite a vocal minority maintaining his innocence, the French government and press demonized the convicted man and unabashedly ridiculed his lack of allegiance to the country of France.  Even when soldiers of the French army came forward to testify that they had evidence that Dreyfus was wrongly convicted and that Major Esterhazy was the real spy, the French government acted in an abhorrent manner.  They jailed the soldiers and officers who came forward and formally pardoned Esterhazy, rather than dealing with the backlash of admitting that they had incorrectly charged Dreyfus.

The Life of Emile Zola paints the picture of the man who would impact the trial, and ultimately ensure that justice would prevail over the bureaucracy and corruption of the French judicial system.  The film starts with Emile Zola (Paul Muni), living with childhood friend, Paul Cezanne, in a meager Bohemian artist apartment in Paris.  Through the lens of Zola’s bohemian idealism, the film portrays the protagonist rallying against the system with brutally honest commentary on the military’s actions in their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.  It also depicts him as an advocate for social justice, championing under-represented groups like French prostitutes in his uncensored portrayal of the life of a street-walker entitled, Nana. Through a rather epic montage sequence, the film catalogues Zola’s countless successes as viewers see the protagonist transform from struggling idealistic writer, to a wealthy and prolific established author.  The film’s first act was a bit too prolonged for essentially a prologue to the main course of action, and I was left feeling very underwhelmed with how the story was progressing.  My feelings however were ameliorated by the reemergence of Paul Cezanne, as he visits the fatter, richer, and more complacent version of his former childhood friend.  Cezanne accuses Zola of becoming a member of the class that he had once had criticized, and castigates Zola for having no backbone.

So begins the second half of the film, the point in which this film begins to become worthy of the accolades of the Academy as well as earn the distinction of inclusion in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. This is the point in the film that the case of Alfred Dreyfus is introduced into the story arch.  The third-person omniscient narrative technique utilized by the film’s story shows the injustice of Dreyfus’ accusation, conviction, and sentencing, in order to enrage the audience.  MV5BMjAyMDgxNjg5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjE1MzQyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1243,1000_AL_However, it is quite bothersome the way that the film downplays the significance of anti-Semitism in its portrayal of the Dreyfus case. The film does not ever overtly describe Dreyfus as a Jew, but rather shows the military officers pointing to Dreyfus’ name on a sheet of paper with Jew listed next to his rank and nationality.  This mention is done so subtly that a distracted viewer could easily miss this all-important fact.  The under-emphasized reference of anti-Semitism is very fitting of a Post-Production code Hollywood, which does not wish to overstep its highly regulated constrains.  Also, in an era where national celebrities like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were outspoken anti-Semites, hate-mongering was still very much en vogue.

Emile’s attitudes towards the Dreyfus case change drastically when Dreyfus’ wife appears at Zola’s door to plead her case.  At this point in the film, Alfred Dreyfus has already been banished on Devil’s Island for years and Zola is Mrs. Dreyfus’ last hope.  Originally he is very cold to her, but as she leaves his residence she also leaves a folder of evidence that proves without a doubt her husband is innocent.  There is a great shot of Zola contemplating opening up the folder, an item he perceives as a metaphorical Pandora’s Box.  As he his vacillating between the actions of opening the folder or ignoring it, he notices a portrait of himself painted by his former roommate, Paul Cezanne, and Paul’s critical words replay in his head.  The words trigger an impulse that seemed long-suppressed by his wealth and fame, and his muckraking spirit overtakes his desire for peace and comfort.  Determined to prove himself as a harbinger of justice once more, Emile Zola pens an op-ed that appears on the front page of a major newspaper in France entitled “J’accuse”.  In the article, he accuses the French military of having knowledge of Dreyfus’ innocence and participating in an elaborate cover-up.  His actions were performed with the sole purpose of bringing the Dreyfus case back to court through a Libel trial.   This trial would allow him to present evidence that would exonerate Alfred Dreyfus in the public sphere, but if his efforts proved unsuccessful, he would be sentenced to jail time.

The second half of the film is enthralling, poignant, and a fantastic portion of filmmaking.  If the first half could have achieved the same amount of exposition with a greater focus on brevity, I would have rated the film much higher.  Overall, I found the film thought-provoking and a great example of 1930’s filmmaking.  In particular, the trial scene showcased the talent of the actors and the emotionally manipulative power that the film evokes.  I highly recommend this powerful and thought-provoking film, because it showcases a horrible example of hatred and bigotry that is all too often forgotten.

Side note: While this blog is not a politically influenced blog, there are certain universal rights for all human beings that we believe in.  While the Dreyfus case occurred some time ago, there are still many innocent people who are incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit in our own country.  Please check out this website and donate if you can:

The Innocence Project’s Mission Statement from their Website:

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. To date, 289 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release.innocence-project

The Innocence Project’s full-time staff attorneys and Cardozo clinic students provide direct representation or critical assistance in most of these cases. The Innocence Project’s groundbreaking use of DNA technology to free innocent people has provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. Now an independent nonprofit organization closely affiliated with Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project’s mission is nothing less than to free the staggering numbers of innocent people who remain incarcerated and to bring substantive reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.

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