HOUSE OF ROTHSCHILD, THE (director: Alfred Werker; screenwriter: from the play by George Hembert Westley/Nunnally Johnson; cinematographer: Peverell Marley; editors: Barbara McLean/Allen McNeil; music: Alfred Newman; cast: George Arliss (Mayer Rothschild/Nathan Rothschild), Boris Karloff (Count Ledrantz), Loretta Young (Julie Rothschild), Robert Young (Captain Fitzroy), C. Aubrey Smith (Duke of Wellington), Arthur Byron (Baring), Helen Westley (Gudula Rothschild, wife of Mayer), Florence Arliss (Hannah Rothschild, Nathan’s wife), Alan Mowbray (Metternich), Reginald Owen (Herries), Solomon Rothschild (Paul Harvey), Amschel Rothschild (Ivan Simpson), Carl Rothschild (Noel Madison), James Rothschild (Murray Kinnell); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; United Artists; 1934)
“Tells the story of the rise of the Rothschild financial empire.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Alfred Werker (“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”/”He Walked By Night”) directs this fine screen adaptation of a biopic of the famous Rothschild banking family from the play by George Hembert Westley; the intelligent script is by Nunnally Johnson. It tells the story of the rise of the Rothschild financial empire founded by Mayer Rothschild in Prussia and continued by his five sons. George Arliss superbly plays both Mayer Rothschild and his son Nathan, the Jewish financial genius who worked out of London.
The lavish black and white production opens in anti-Semitic Prussia in 1780, where the Rothschilds persevere despite living on Jew Street in Frankfurt and are not allowed (like all other Jews) to learn trades, to farm or to leave the ghetto after sundown. The family prospers as wily merchants and money changers. On his deathbed, the founder advises his five sons to open banks throughout Europe so they can safely transport money instead of being plagued by robberies on coach, the way they usually transported their funds, and to never forget to help their people overcome their plight. It then skips some 35 years later to show Nathan as the head of the Rothschild banking empire in London, and how Napoleon has threatened to conquer Europe. Nathan is brought by Captain Fitzroy (Robert Young) a petition by the Duke of Wellington (C. Aubrey Smith) to allow his brothers in Vienna, Naples, Paris and Frankfurt to loan money to the allies to stop Napoleon, and out of patriotism Nathan agrees. With Napoleon’s defeat and capture, the grateful Wellington gives Nathan insider info regarding a war recovery loan needed by France. This loan will make the Rothschilds the biggest banking house in Europe but the Allied Council, led by the openly anti-Semite Prussian Count Ledrantz (Boris Karloff), give the loan to his rival Baring, even though his bid is lower. Nathan gets even by shrewdly offering a lower bond to the public and thereby forcing the council members to sell their bond to him to at a lower cost. Disappointed by the anti-Semitism shown by the European upper-class, Nathan refuses to allow his pretty daughter Julie (Loretta Young) to marry the Gentile suitor Fitzroy and sends her to Frankfurt. The heart of the film shows how Nathan was the only banker in Europe who took a chance on giving Wellington a loan after he fought the reinvigorated Napoleon who escaped from Elba. Nathan exacts a heavy price for the much needed loan, as he makes a deal whereby the English government agrees to break down the ghetto existence for Jews and grant his people basic civil rights and freedom. During the height of the conflict all the panicky bankers were expecting Wellington to lose and were selling their securities on the London stock exchange while Nathan was bullish and buying, pumping in £5,000,000 he put his financial empire at risk to save England’s financial system from collapse. As a result of Wellington’s victory Nathan now gives his daughter permission to marry Captain Fitzroy and Nathan is awarded a knighthood by King George III of England (you can’t become more socially accepted than that). That final scene was filmed in a new process called three-strip Technicolor.
The film was released shortly after Hitler came to power and it tried to comment on the growing anti-Semitism of Germany by making the Karloff character into an evil Nazi type. The Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels instead of banning the film, re-edited it to serve as anti-Jewish propaganda.
REVIEWED ON 7/21/2006 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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