The Dreyfus Affair (1899 film)

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The Dreyfus Affair
The full film
Directed by Georges Méliès
Release dates September 1899[1]
Running time 240 meters/780 feet[1]
Country France
Language Silent

The Dreyfus Affair (French: L'affaire Dreyfus), also known as Dreyfus Court-Martial,[2] is an 1899 silent docudrama written and directed by Georges Méliès. Released by Méliès's Star Film Company and numbered 206–217 in its catalogs,[3] the film consists of eleven installments, each reconstructing a historical event from the Dreyfus affair.[4]


The eleven installments of the film follow the events of the Dreyfus affair from 1894 through September 1899,[5] the month of the film's release.[1] The table below gives each installment's chronological order (#), numbering in Star Film catalogs (SFC), original French title, English release titles for the US and UK, and length in meters (m), as well as the individual scene summaries from the catalog released on 1 November 1899 by the Warwick Trading Company, the only known British firm to sell all eleven installments of the film.[6]

# SFC English title(s) French title m
1 206 Dreyfus Court Martial—Arrest of Dreyfus (US)
Arrest of Dreyfus, 1894 (UK)
Dictée du bordereau (arrestation de Dreyfus) 20
"Du Paty de Clam requests Captain Dreyfus to write as he dictates for the purpose of ascertaining whether his handwriting conforms to that of the Bordereau. He notices the nervousness of Dreyfus, and accuses him of being the author of the Bordereau. Paty de Clam offers Dreyfus a revolver, with advice to commit suicide. The revolver is scornfully rejected, Dreyfus stating that he had no need for such cowardly methods, proclaiming his innocence. His arrest is immediately ordered by M. Cochefort."
2 216 The Degradation of Dreyfus (US)
The Degradation of Dreyfus in 1894 (UK)[a]
La Dégradation 20
"Shows the troops ranging in a quadrant inside the yard of the Military School in Paris. The Adjutant, who conducts the degradation, reads the sentence and proceeds to tear off in succession all of the buttons, laces, and ornaments from the uniform of Captain Dreyfus, who is compelled to pass in disgrace before the troops. A most visual representation of this first act of injustice to Dreyfus."
3 207 Devil's Island—Within the palisade (US)
Dreyfus at Devil's Island—Within the palisade (UK)
La Case de Dreyfus à l'île du Diable 20
"The scene opens within the Palisades, showing Dreyfus seated on a block meditating. The guard enters bearing a letter from his wife, which he hands to Captain Dreyfus. The latter reads it and endeavours to talk to the Guard, who, however, refuses to reply, according to strict orders from his Government, causing Dreyfus to become very despondent."
4 208 Dreyfus Put in Irons (US)
Dreyfus Put in Irons—Inside Cell at Devil's Island (UK)
Dreyfus mis aux fers (la double boucle) 20
"Showing the interior view of the hut in which Dreyfus is confined. The scene takes place at night, showing the moon through the window of the cell. Two guards stealthily approach the cot upon which Dreyfus is sleeping. They awake him and read to him the order from the French minister–M. Lebon–to put him into irons, which they proceed at once to accomplish. Dreyfus vigorously protests against this treatment, which protests, however, fall on deaf ears. The chief sergeant and guards before leaving the hut, inspect the four corners of same by means of a lantern."
5 209 Suicide of Colonel Henry (US, UK) Suicide du colonel Henry 20
"Shows the interior of the cell of the Prison Militaire du Cherche-Midi, Paris, where Colonel Henry is confined. He is seated at a table writing a letter, on completion of which he rises and takes a razor out he had concealed in his porte-manteau, with which he cuts his throat. The suicide is discovered by the sergeant of the guard and officers."
6 210 Landing of Dreyfus at Quiberon (US)
Landing of Dreyfus from Devil's Island (UK)
Débarquement de Dreyfus à Quiberon 20
"A section of the port Haliquen (Quiberon) Bretagne, at night where Dreyfus was landed by French marines, and officers after his transport from Devil's Island. He is received by the French authorities, officers, and gendarmes, and conducted to the station for his departure to Rennes. This little scene was enacted on a dark rainy night, which is clearly shown in the film. The effects are further heightened by vivid flashes of lightning which are certainly new in cinematography."
7 211 Dreyfus Meets His Wife at Rennes (US)
Dreyfus in Prison of Rennes (UK)
Entrevue de Dreyfus et de sa femme (prison de Rennes) 20
"Showing room at the military prison at Rennes in which Dreyfus the accused is confined. He is visited by his counsel, Maître Labori and Demange, with whom he is seen in animated conversation. A visit from his wife is announced, who enters. The meeting of the husband and wife is most pathetic and emotional."
8 212 The Attempt Against the Life of Maitre Labori (US)
The Attempt Against Maitre Labori (UK)
Attentat contre Me Labori 20
"Maître Labori is seen approaching the bridge of Rennes in company with Colonel Picquart and M. Gast, Mayor of Rennes. They notice that they are followed by another man to whom Colonel Picquart calls Labori's attention. They, however, consider his proximity of no importance, and continue to speak together. As soon as their backs are turned, the man draws a revolver and fires twice at Maître Labori, who is seen to fall to the ground. The culprit makes his escape, pursued by Colonel Picquart and M. Gast."
9 213 The Fight of Reporters at the Lycée (US)
The Fight of Journalists at the Lycee (UK)
Suspension d'audience (bagarre entre journalistes) 20
"During an interval in the proceedings of the court martial, the journalists enter into an animated discussion, resulting in a dispute between Arthur Meyer of the 'Gaulois', and Mme. Severine of the 'Fronde', resulting in a fight between Dreyfusards and Anti-Dreyfusards, in which canes and chairs are brought down upon the heads of many. The room is finally cleared by the gendarmes."
10 214–215 The Court Martial at Rennes (US, UK) Le Conseil de guerre en séance à Rennes 40
"A scene in the Lycee at Rennes, showing the military court-martial of Captain Dreyfus. The only occupants of the room at this time are Maître Demange and secretary. Other advocates and the stenographers now begin to arrive and the sergeant is seen announcing the arrival of Colonel Jouaust and other officers comprising the seven judges of the court-martial. The five duty judges are also seen in the background. On the left of the picture are seen Commander Cordier and Adjutant Coupois, with their stenographers and gendarmes. On the right are seen Maître Demange, Labori, and their secretaries. Colonel Jouaust orders the Sergeant of the Police to bring in Dreyfus. Dreyfus enters, saluting the Court, followed by the Captain of Gendarmerie, who is constantly with him. They take their appointed seats in front of the judges. Colonel Jouaust puts several questions to Dreyfus, to which he replies in a standing position. He then asks Adjutant Coupois to call the first witness, and General Mercier arrives. He states that his deposition is a lengthy one, and requests a chair, which is passed to him by a gendarme. In a sitting position he proceeds with his deposition. Animated discussion and cross-questioning is exchanged between Colonel Jouaust, General Mercier, and Maître Demange. Captain Dreyfus much excited gets up and vigorously protests against these proceedings. This scene, which is a most faithful portrayal of this proceeding, shows the absolute portraits of over thirty of the principal personages in this famous trial."
11 217 Dreyfus Leaving the Lycée for Jail (US)
Officers and Dreyfus Leaving the Lycee (UK)[b]
Dreyfus allant du lycée de Rennes à la prison 20
"The exterior of the Lycee de Rennes, where the famous Dreyfus Court-Martial was conducted, showing the French staff leaving the building after the sitting, and crossing the yard between the French soldiers forming a double line. Maîtres Demange and Labori also make their appearance, walking towards the foreground of the picture, and at length Captain Dreyfus is seen approaching, being accompanied by the Captain of Gendarmes, who is conducting him back to prison."


Production of The Dreyfus Affair began while the real-life Alfred Dreyfus's trial was proceeding in Rennes. The film was made entirely in Méliès's Star Films studio in Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis, though with a strong emphasis on cinematic realism markedly different from the energetic theatrical style used in Méliès's better-known fantasy films.[4] An ironworker with a strong resemblance to Dreyfus was hired for the role in order to increase the film's realism.[8] Méliès himself appears in the film as Dreyfus's attorney Fernand Labori, and makes a brief reappearance as a journalist after Labori's attempted assassination.[9]

At about the same time as Méliès's production, the studio Pathé Frères also produced a reenactment of the Dreyfus affair, in six episodes, with the actor Liezer as Dreyfus; this version may have been directed by Ferdinand Zecca.[10]


The eleven installments were sold individually at US$9.75 each and shown in sequence, making The Dreyfus Affair the first known film serial.[4] Both Méliès's and Pathé's versions reached England in September 1899, where they quickly became the most extensively advertised films of that year (the record was broken the following month with the release of films of the Transvaal War).[11] According to the film historian Jay Leyda, Méliès's emphasis on realism was so convincing that European audiences believed they were watching actual documentary film of the events.[8]


Nine of the eleven installments (all except scenes 2 and 11, catalog numbers 216 and 217) survive as a 35mm positive print at the BFI National Archive.[12] All eleven installments of the film are believed to survive at the Archives françaises du film in Bois d'Arcy.[13]


The film is prominently featured in Susan Daitch's 2001 novel Paper Conspiracies, which includes fictionalized accounts of its making, preservation, and survival.[14]



  1. ^ Numbered 217 in London-published Star Film catalogs[7]
  2. ^ Numbered 216 in London-published Star Film catalogs[7]


  1. ^ a b c Hammond 1974, p. 139
  2. ^ Barnes 1992, p. 71
  3. ^ Frazer 1979, p. 246
  4. ^ a b c Frazer 1979, p. 78
  5. ^ Frazer 1979, pp. 78–80
  6. ^ Titles and lengths are taken from Malthête & Mannoni 2008, p. 340; chronological order, from Frazer 1979, pp. 78–80; and summary, from the Dreyfus Court-Martial synopsis reprinted in Barnes 1992, pp. 71–72. The chronological order and UK titles are also confirmed by this synopsis.
  7. ^ a b Malthête & Mannoni 2008, p. 340
  8. ^ a b Frazer 1979, p. 80
  9. ^ Frazer 1979, p. 79
  10. ^ Barnes 1992, p. 70
  11. ^ Barnes 1992, p. 74
  12. ^ "Collections Search". BFI National Archive. British Film Institute. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  13. ^ Frazer 1979, p. 76
  14. ^ Maine 2011


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