Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1934. 20th Century Pictures. Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on a play by George Hembert Westley. Cinematography by J. Peverell Marley. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Richard Day. Costume Design by Gwen Wakeling. Film Editing by Barbara McLean, Allen McNeil. Academy Awards 1934.
After making a dry film about Disraeli purchasing of the Suez Canal (thrilling), George Arliss makes another biopic that you probably knew you didn’t need, about the family who founded the economic power that would come to influence Europe’s economic and political future. Mayer Rothschild (Arliss) is raising his sons in Germany and is at the mercy of the local tax collector and the highway robbers who interrupt his financial shipments and nearly impoverish him. On his deathbed, he employs his five boys to scatter to various ends of Europe and begin their own financial firms in order to increase their security and avoid the kind of troubles he has had. Years later, Nathan Rothschild (also played by Arliss) is considered for a loan that will help England defeat Napoleon, but his bid is rejected when the smarmy Count Ledrantz (Boris Karloff in one of his first major non-monster roles) rejects him on account of Rothschild’s being a Jew. Now brimming with feelings of vengeance, at home Rothschild ruins his daughter’s prospects in marriage (she, played by a lovely Loretta Young, wants to marry a goy) while at the office he works his financial magic to bring ruin to the creditors who were chosen over him. This is then followed by periods of anti-Jewish riots (mirroring the rising tide of ant-Semitism in Europe at the time the film was released) before Rothschild is once again in a position to give a loan which then provides him the opportunity to inspire the passing of anti-discrimination policies. Told with all the dryness that Disraeli featured, though with better camerawork and more opportunity for the rest of the cast to deliver a few lines, this one gives Arliss less of a part to work with and doesn’t have the moments of warmth he brought to his previous hit. Meant to be a film to combat prejudice, the film unintentionally supports a lot of alarmist Filthy Rich Jew sentiment and was even re-edited by Nazi propagandists to justify their own theories (parts of it were included in the infamous 1940 film The Eternal Jew).