Joseph Schildkraut won his Oscar from his only Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus is falsely accused and convicted of being a traitor in the French army basically because he is Jewish. Due to his limited screen time it is essential that we care for Dreyfus the moment we see him, so Schildkraut has his work cut out for him. Schildkraut meets the demands of the part and from his first scene does have a nice warm presence as Dreyfus that we can easily we sympathize with. Although it is only a glimpse, in the glimpse Schildkraut shows an honest family man who absolutely could not be guilty of anything especially not being a traitor his country.
Schildkraut brings us into Dreyfus's terrible struggle to convince people of his innocence. Schildkraut gives an entirely honest performance showing that pain, and disbelief that Dreyfus is going through. Schildkraut is absolutely heart wrenching when he is being stripped of rank, because his cries of "I am Innocent" are cries of a man desperately pleading to be believed and have his life returned to him. Schildkraut gives a passionate and moving portrait of Dreyfus in just these few moments.
Schildkraut continues to be effective as Dreyfus is being imprisoned and the sadness overwhelms him from what has happened to him. It would be common for many actors of this period to be completely unbelievable or over the top, but Schilkraut always gives a truthful performance. In just a few small reaction shots Schildkraut conveys the utter devastation of Dreyfus that has come from his imprisonment. There is not a false moment in this portrayal.
Dreyfus is finally proven innocent and released. Schildkraut is again given very little time, but still he manages to convey so well the relief, and happiness Dreyfus feels. He doesn't overplay it, but portrays the reality of this man's hope finally being rewarded. This is a good performance throughout only held by the fact he is barely in the film. It is really amazing though that Schildkraut managed to turn Dreyfus into a moving character in such limited screen time, when he could have easily been almost a non entity.