I Accuse (1958): Jose Ferrer Directs and Stars in Chronicle of Dreyfus Affair

Oscar-winning actor Jose (Cyrano de Bergerac) Ferrer directed and starred in this chronicle of the Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish captain in the French Army was falsely accused of treason.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Though purportedly more honest and accurate, this new version, scripted by Gore Vidal, is not nearly as engaging as the 1937 Oscar-winning picture, The Life of Emile Zola.

After establishing his honorable service and decent family life (he is a good husband and father), the tale center on how Dreyfus was accused and then sentenced to imprisonment on Devil’s Island.

When the real traitor is found, the French Army tries to hide the truth by exonerating the traitor in a mock trial.

It was then that the famous French author Emile Zola (played by the British playwright and actor Emlyn Williams) wrote a letter to the President of France, entitled “I Accuse!” The letter revealed the truth behind the political cover up and exposed the rampant anti-Semitism in and out of the French military.

The letter was published in the newspapers and Zola was sued for libel, leading to a re-examination of the entire Dreyfus case.

The verbose film is replete with statements about the “honor of the army” and the “safety of the government.” While in prison, he writes to his wife letters in which he states his hope that “innocence will make itself known.”

The material might have worked better as a stage play for it lacks the suspense and dramatic intensity of other courtroom dramas, such as Judgement at Nuremberg.

Commercial Appeal:

The movie was a big box-office flop, earning only $190,000 in the U.S.


Jose Ferrer as Captain Alfred Dreyfus

Anton Walbrook as Major Esterhz

Viveca Lindfors as Lucie Dreyfus

Leo Genn as Major Piquar

Emlyn Williams as Emile Zola

David Farrar as Mathieu Dreyfus

Donald Wolfit as General Mercie

Herbert Lom as Major DuPaty de Cla

Harry Andrews as Major Henry

Felix Aylmer as Edgar Demang

George Coulouris as Col. Sandher

Peter Illing as Georges Clemencea

Michael Hordern as Prosecutor

Laurence Naismith as Judge

Ernest Clark as Prosecutor

Eric Pohlmann as Bertillo

John Phillips as Prosecutor

Malcolm Keen as President of France