I Accuse! (1958)

99 mins | Biography, Documentary | 28 February 1958

Director:

José Ferrer

Writer:

Gore Vidal

Producer:

Sam Zimbalist

Cinematographer:

F. A. Young

Editor:

Frank Clarke

Production Designer:

Elliot Scott

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Full page view
HISTORY

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 Nov 1955 HR news item, Edmund Purdom was initially considered to star as Dreyfus.
       The story was based on actual events in France beginning in Oct 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 ... More Less

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 Nov 1955 HR news item, Edmund Purdom was initially considered to star as Dreyfus.
       The story was based on actual events in France beginning in Oct 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 Jun 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. HR 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. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
24 Feb 1958.
---
Daily Variety
11 Feb 58
p. 3.
Film Daily
13 Feb 58
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 1957
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Apr 1957
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 1957.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1957
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 58
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
22 Mar 58
p. 765.
New York Times
6 Mar 58
p. 32.
Variety
26 Jun 1957.
---
Variety
5 Feb 58
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Rec supv
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Photog eff
MAKEUP
Hairdressing
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Captain Dreyfus: The Story of a Mass Hysteria by Nicholas Halasz (New York, 1955).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Captain Dreyfus
Release Date:
28 February 1958
Production Date:
3 April--early June 1957 at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Boreham Wood, Elstree, England
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 January 1958
Copyright Number:
LP9549
Physical Properties:
Sound
Perspecta Sound; Westrex Recording System
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
Process lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
99
Length(in feet):
8,907
Length(in reels):
7
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18706
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

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 ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.