Cast & Crew
In early 1890s Paris, army officer Maj. Ferdinand Esterhazy requests a private meeting with the German embassy attaché, Maximilian von Schwarzkoppen, offering to sell him French military secrets. Suspicious, von Schwarzkoppen initially rejects the offer and carelessly throws Esterhazy's list of military documents in his office trashcan where it is later retrieved by an undercover French agent. Sometime later, War Minister Gen. Auguste Mercier meets with several high-ranking staff officers to announce that several vital defense plans have been stolen from headquarters. Shortly after an internal investigation begins, Esterhazy pressures his friend, Maj. Hubert Henry of counter-intelligence, to expedite his transfer request. Later, the head of espionage, Col. Jean Sandherr, shows Henry part of an intercepted note from the German to the Italian attaché mentioning a contact known by the initial "D." Sandherr also reveals that the intercept also produced a letter to the German embassy from the presumed French spy. In examining the list of the staff officers, the men pause over the name of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a hard-working, solemn officer and the only Jew on the General Staff. Sandherr summons handwriting expert Maj. Du Paty de Clam to examine the letter. The following day Du Paty and Henry meet with Sandherr and Dreyfus' commander, Maj. Georges Picquart, who is startled to learn that the men suspect Dreyfus. Later, Dreyfus is summoned to meet Du Paty and, without explanation, ordered to write several lines. Upon examining Dreyfus' handwriting, Du Paty arrests Dreyfus. Bewildered, then angered, Dreyfus declares that he is innocent of any wrongdoing, but is taken into custody. After Dreyfus' house is searched, his wife Lucie and brother Mathieu demand to see Dreyfus, but Sandherr insists that he must remain in solitary confinement. Sandherr then warns Lucie and Mathieu not to speak with the press, cautioning them that the public would respond violently to news of treason. Shortly thereafter, Esterhazy returns from a trip out of town and learns of Dreyfus' arrest and pending court-martial. After secretly meeting with von Schwarzkoppen to assure him that he is not a suspect, Esterhazy visits a local newspaper editor to reveal Dreyfus' arrest, insisting that he is motivated out of a sense of patriotic duty. Civilian attorney Edgar Demange offers his services to defend Dreyfus. As the court-martial looms, Picquart warns the War Minister that the General Staff will look foolish if Dreyfus is not found guilty, but Sandherr insists that the "proper" verdict will be reached. At Mercier's insistence, the military trial is held in a closed court. Du Paty and several of the officers give evidence linking Dreyfus to the note and suggesting sinister motives for his aloof behavior. Henry then stuns the court by testifying under oath that a trustworthy source informed him of a spy within the General Staff and identified the traitor as Dreyfus. When Demange insists that Henry reveal his source's identity, Henry refuses and the judge supports the refusal as necessary for the defense of national intelligence. Dreyfus is found guilty, prompting him to attempt suicide in his prison cell. When Mercier requests Dreyfus make a confession of guilt, however, he refuses and is sentenced to life imprisonment on the notorious Devil's Island in French Guiana. Picquart then receives an intercepted note from Esterhazy to the German Embassy, and recognizing the writing, compares it to the original letter used against Dreyfus. When the writing matches, Picquart reports the discovery to Mercier, who nevertheless refuses to reopen the Dreyfus case. Mercier then orders Picquart transferred to Tunisia. Unwilling to disgrace the army, Picquart drops the issue and leaves the evidence with his lawyer, Louis LeBlanc. Before leaving for prison, Dreyfus is publicly humiliated by the Army in front of a cheering throng. On Mercier's orders, Dreyfus is held in isolation, chained to his bed every night and is not allowed to read Lucie's daily letters. A year after the conviction, in order to keep interest in the case alive, Mathieu prints phony fliers declaring that Dreyfus has escaped and fled to England. The flyer attracts LeBlanc's attention and he summons Lucie and Mathieu to show them the evidence exonerating Dreyfus. The evidence eventually results in Esterhazy's court-martial, but the judge refuses to hear testimony regarding Dreyfus, as the case is closed. Esterhazy is subsequently acquitted and Picquart, who has returned to testify, is arrested. Outraged by the verdict, famed novelist Émile Zola and politician and publisher Georges Clemenceau offer their services to Lucie and Mathieu. Zola then writes an open letter to the president, calling Dreyfus' verdict a national shame and accusing Mercier, Du Paty, Henry and Sandherr of willfully concealing evidence motivated in part by anti-Semitism. Clemenceau publishes the letter in his newspaper under the banner: "I Accuse." The letter prompts international attention to the Dreyfus case and the president then demands Dreyfus be returned from Devil's Island to face a new, legitimate trial. Mercier furiously defends the military justice of the first trial, insisting that the army cannot appear weak or divided to the nation. Five years after his conviction, a stunned and aged Dreyfus is returned to France for a second trial. Picquart, now a civilian, testifies for Dreyfus. To the cheers of the army, a livid Mercier testifies against Dreyfus, brushing aside evidence that Henry forged letters and that Mercier himself swayed the opinion of the judge in the first trial. At the trial's end, Demange informs Dreyfus that although it is certain he will be found guilty again, the president has assured him a pardon. Zola and Clemenceau plead with Dreyfus to reject the pardon, which would mean accepting the guilty verdict, but exhausted and unable to face returning to Devil's Island, Dreyfus accepts. Over the next two years, Dreyfus' name continues to provoke controversy throughout France and Dreyfus wonders if he will ever find peace. Some years later in London, Esterhazy, in need of money, shows his memoirs to a publisher, which results in Dreyfus' complete exoneration. Picquart and Dreyfus are reinstated into the army and Dreyfus is publicly presented with the Legion of Honor as Lucie, their children and Mathieu look on.
Van Alen James
A. W. Watkins
F. A. Young
The title of the film comes from Emile Zola's headline for his fiery editorial that appeared in French newspapers at the time. The controversy not only revealed major weaknesses in the justice system but still stands as a classic case of bureaucratic bungling. Because of the important issues it raises, it's easy to see why any director would be drawn to the material and Jose Ferrer was a natural for the project. No stranger to controversial subject matter, Ferrer had previously directed The Shrike (1955) in which an emasculating wife drives her husband to a nervous breakdown and The Great Man (1956) where a beloved television star is revealed to be a despicable phony. For I Accuse!, Ferrer cast himself in the title role after unsuccessfully searching for a suitable lead, and hired some of the most respected actors in the film world to appear in supporting roles including Anton Walbrook as the traitorous Major Esterhazy, Herbert Lom as Major de Clam, Harry Andrews as Major Henry, Viveca Lindfors as his wife, Lucie, and Emlyn Williams as Emile Zola.
Besides the Emile Zola connection, I Accuse! carries an impressive literary pedigree due to its screenplay by Gore Vidal. The novelist had recently signed a contract with MGM and established his reputation quickly as an adaptor of literary works such as The Catered Affair (1956), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), and Ben-Hur (1959). While Vidal has few kind words to say about his experiences in Hollywood, I Accuse! is one of his more successful adaptations but was underrated at the time of its release. Audiences in 1958 were flocking to entertainments like South Pacific and Auntie Mame and didn't anticipate much pleasure from I Accuse!. While it's clearly not everyone's idea of an entertaining night out at the movies, I Accuse! is a fascinating history lesson and a powerful drama for the discriminating movie lover.
Producer: Sam Zimbalist
Screenplay: Nicholas Halasz (book), Gore Vidal
Cinematography: Freddie Young
Costume Design: Elizabeth Haffenden
Film Editing: Frank Clarke
Original Music: William Alwyn
Cast: Jose Ferrer (Captain Alfred Dreyfus), Anton Walbrook (Major Esterhazy), Viveca Lindfors (Lucie Dreyfus), Leo Genn (Major Picquart), Emlyn Williams (åÀile Zola), David Farrar (Mathieu Dreyfus), Herbert Lom (Major de Clam), Harry Andrews (Major Henry), George Coulouris (Colonel Sandherr).
BW-100m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
This Esterhazy is one of the most glorious liars that ever drew breath. Why, the authority of it, the poise; the man's a genius!- Emile Zola
The working title of the film was Captain Dreyfus. The following written prologue appears in the onscreen credits: "In 1894 Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army officer, stood before a military tribunal accused of treason. The outcome of the trial, a trial that created an international sensation, is a brave chapter in the history of France, that nation which first proclaimed the Rights of Man." The opening cast credits differ slightly from the closing credits. According to a November 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Edmund Purdom was initially considered to star as Dreyfus.
The story was based on actual events in France beginning in October 1894 with the arrest of thirty-five-year-old General Staff member Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the charge of treason for passing military secrets to a foreign power (Germany). The film accurately depicts the various characters and actions behind one of the most infamous events in modern French history. As in the film, Dreyfus was arrested and incarcerated with very little information about the charges against him. Unstated in the film, however, is the fact mentioned in modern historical sources that the army had been aware for three years that secret military information was being passed by an unknown agent to either the German or Italian government. There is no indication from historical sources that, as the film depicts, Maj. Ferdinand Esterhazy was responsible for initially informing the press of Dreyfus' arrest. France's newspapers were, however, highly critical of Dreyfus' character, thus fanning international debate over the trial and its implications.
As noted in subsequent accounts of the case, many of the articles in French newspapers that condemned Dreyfus were virulently anti-Semitic. The film maintains what was revealed in historical records, that War Minster Gen. Auguste Mercier, Col. Hubert Henry and Maj. Marquis Mercier Du Paty de Clam consorted together to manufacture evidence against Dreyfus, which was compiled in a secret file. As the film mentions, Mercier later illegally passed the file's contents on to the presiding judge during deliberations in Dreyfus' first trial.
After Dreyfus' conviction, his sentence to Devil's Island and the continued attention brought to the case by the publication of novelist Émile Zola's famous letter ("J'Accuse"/"I Accuse"), new War Minister Godefroy Cavaignac declared in 1898 that he had letters in his possession that confirmed Dreyfus' guilt and demanded that Dreyfus' former superior, Maj. Georges Picquart and Zola be brought up on charges of plotting to overthrow the state for their support of Dreyfus. As in the film, Picquart alone repeatedly testified in Dreyfus' defense and was eventually forced out of the army and incarcerated. Not depicted in the film was Maj. Henry's confession to forging Cavaignac's and a number of other incriminating letters against Dreyfus. After his arrest, Henry committed suicide in prison. Although the film portrays the famous article written by Zola and published by Georges Clemenceau in his newspaper L'Aurore, it does not relate that the French government, at the urging of the army, then prosecuted and found Zola guilty in a civilian court for the defamation of Esterhazy. Zola's conviction was quashed on a technicality and a new trial ordered, before which, on advice of his lawyers, Zola fled to London (for further information on Zola, please see the entry for Warner Bros. 1936 production The Life of Emile Zola in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films: 1931-40).
As I Accuse! shows, interest in securing Dreyfus a new trial was brought about by the dedicated efforts of his wife Lucie and brother Mathieu. In June 1899, Dreyfus' conviction was annulled by the High Court of Appeals and a new trial ordered. The new action brought about Picquart's release from jail and Zola returned to France after nearly a year in exile. As in the film, during the second Dreyfus trial, Mercier again testified vehemently against Dreyfus and defended his illegal actions as necessary to defend the honor of the army and the nation. Dreyfus was again found guilty with "extenuating circumstances," but the film does not indicate that he suffered a nervous breakdown as a result, which guided his decision to accept a formal pardon. As the film indicates, in 1906, twelve years after his arrest and conviction, Dreyfus was finally cleared and reinstated in the army at the rank of major and made a Legion of Honor Knight. Picquart was also cleared and went on to become the Minister of War in Clemenceau's government. Unlike the film's ending, which indicates that Esterhazy's published confessions brought about Dreyfus' clearance, it was the 1931 publication of the papers of former German attaché Maximillian von Schwarzkoppen (who had died in Berlin in 1917) that proved that Esterhazy, not Dreyfus, had always been the traitor. Nevertheless, for years in France there remained a strong "anti-Dreyfusard" contingent, convinced of his, Picquart's and Zola's treason.
The film was shot on location in London and Brussels, when the French government refused permission to allow filming in Paris. Hollywood Reporter casting lists add Basil Dignan, Everly Gregg, Michael Trubshaw, Derek Waring, Ronald and Arthur Howard, Jeanette Bradbury, Rachel Lemkov, Christopher Witty and Christopher Warbey to the cast, but their appearances in the film has not been confirmed. In 1931, Columbia released the British film, The Dreyfus Case, based on the Hans Rehfisch play, which starred Cedric Hardwicke and was directed by F. W. Kraemer and Milton Rosmer. A French version of I Accuse!, entitled Zola, was made in 1954. In 1991, Warner Bros. television produced Prisoner of Honor which was broadcast by HBO. That film, which focused on the difficulties faced by Col. Picquart due to his defense of Dreyfus, starred Richard Dreyfuss and was directed by Ken Russell.
Released in United States Spring April 1958
Released in United States Spring April 1958