There’s our man!

Paul Muni as Zola - listening at his trial

I am watching The Life of Émile Zola (1936), corny and stirring by turns, starring Paul Muni.  The movie focuses on his trial for libel that resulted from his publication of J’accuse..! his dissection of the sham conviction of Dreyfus for treason.  Virulent hatred of Jews was at the center of the case, so it’s interesting how the film treats the subject of anti-semitism.

There's our man!The words “Jew” and “anti-semitic” are never spoken in the film.  The theme is all very sotto voce.  When the general staff is looking for a fall guy to take the blame for the spying they have detected, they examine a roster of it’s members.  The religion of each is noted.  The head points to Dreyfus’s name and says, “There’s our man.”

3 JC in glory

When Zola is brought before the kangaroo court for libelling the French military, there are several long shots of the assembled dignataries and spectators. A huge painting of The Crucifixtion makes the point that church and state are not separate in France.

 The violent anti-Dreyfus mobs are shown, but there is no indication of their vicious anti-semitic bent.  Nor is the anti-clericalism of the Dreyfusards hinted.   You have to know the history to read the subtext of the film.

French anti-semitic propaganda     Republican anti-clerical poster
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6 Responses to There’s our man!

  1. Man of Roma says:

    Why this ‘sotto voce’? Wasn’t it an Amerian movie? What was the relationship of the US vis-à-vis Nazi Germany and its anti-semitismin in 1936?

  2. lichanos says:

    It is an American movie. There was a lot of anti-semitism in the US at that time. Quotas to limit Jews in universities, etc. were common. It moderated a lot after the war.

    Right up to Pearl Harbor, there were many people who felt it was only the Jews who wanted the US to fight Germany. The Isolationists were the most prominent.

    Clearly, the producers didn’t want to make this element of the film too prominent. Of course, the situation was much worse and even more conflicted on race. During WWII, black soldiers fought in segregated units, with rare exceptions. My father told me that it was not uncommon to hear comments in the army like, “First we’ll get the Germans and Japs, then the niggers, then the Jews…” Just bravado-bigotry of soldiers mostly, but you get the picture.

    The Greatest Generation wasn’t always so great.

  3. Man of Roma says:

    I understand. In ‘I segreti di New York’ by Corrado Augias I have read that at the end of the 19th century (but also later) Italians, black people and Jews were considered just scum.

    The relationship between Italians and Jews seems interesting to me. Take Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin etc. I have the impression they got along well in the New World. They are both Mediterranean people.

    Roman Jews are extremely interesting. I have a lot of materials on them since I wrote an article on a Roman newspaper about them. They are the most ancient Romans and their Roman dialect is the most pure we have here. They use words you can find only in Dante. I’ll write a post on that. It might interest you.
    Ciao Lichanos

  4. Man of Roma says:

    And by the way, Italians sometimes continue to be considered scum because of crime and mafia [I'll say nothing of Berlusconi], as attested by the present discussion at my blog.

    We have a saying that might apply to Jews, Italians etc.: “If people talks badly about you it means you exist, you have qualities etc.”

  5. lichanos says:

    MoR:

    …I have read that at the end of the 19th century …Italians, black people and Jews were considered just scum.

    Don’t forget the Irish!!

    …Take Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin etc. I have the impression they got along well in the New World.

    It might interest you to know that before organized crime in NYC became associated with the Italian mafia, it was the exclusive realm of Jews. Meyer Lansky is the most famous of those gangsters. (Murder Incorporated) I think E.L. Doctorow features him in Ragtime. For that matter, before basketball was dominated by African-Americans, it was Jews. America is filled with spatial and cultural migrations/displacements like this. Comedians – used to be totally Jews, still heavily so. Police – used to be all Irish. On and on…Neighborhoods: Harlem in Manhattan wasn’t black until the early 20th century…

    …They are the most ancient Romans and their Roman dialect is the most pure we have here. They use words you can find only in Dante. I’ll write a post on that. It might interest you.

    Sounds very interesting! Needless to add, ghetto comes from Italian. From Rome, no?

    I never can understand the endless appeal of mafia gangster films and TV here, even to people of Italian ancestry. It’s as if I enjoyed watching films about Jewish gangsters and rapacious userers.

  6. Man of Roma says:

    Interesting this displacement thing. Yes, the Irish, of course.

    I checked in Wikipedia. Ghetto is a term linked to Italy and probably Venice, not Rome. But the Roman ghetto is one of the most interesting.

    I linked to this discussion at my blog, where I reply to my Canadian commenters. Ciao

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