Duvivier (1896-1967) began his career as an actor and writer and switched to directing films in 1919. He directed a total of 73 films including such classics as the French classic Pépé le Moko (1937), starring frequent Duvivier collaborator Jean Gabin; and the American productions The Great Waltz (1938) and Tales of Manhattan (1942). He also served as screenwriter for many of his films.
David Golder is based on the book of the same title by Irène Némirovsky, who was 26 when this, her second novel, brought her instant acclaim. Born in Russia of Jewish origins, Némirovsky had emigrated from Kiev to France in 1919 and in 1942 was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where she died after one month.
The film also marked the "talkie" debut of Harry Baur, one of France's outstanding character actors of the period and another frequent star of Duvivier films including Poil de Carotte (1932), La Tête d'un homme (1933) and The Golem (1936). Around the time of David Golder he lost his wife and a 20-year-old son, a double tragedy that was said to inform his work as an actor, leading to performances of almost overwhelming intensity. American actor Rod Steiger strongly admired Baur and cited him as a major influence on his own work. Baur died during World War II after being tortured by the Gestapo.
As the title character in David Golder, Baur plays a poor but ambitious Polish Jew who reinvents himself as a powerful New York business magnate. After gaining wealth, Golder relocates to Paris, only to have his selfish and demanding wife (Paule Andral) squander his fortune. When he confronts her about this, she spitefully informs him that she has been unfaithful for years and their only child (Jackie Monnier), a spoiled but much-loved daughter, is not actually his.
Golder takes his revenge through a scheme that will provide the daughter with plenty of money while cutting his wife off without a cent. After a heart attack, he faces death in self-imposed poverty, having learned that money cannot buy happiness. Baur's portrait of the unfortunate Golder has been described as "heart-stopping."
Another film was based on the novel: Operation X (1950, also know as My Daughter Joy), directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Edward G. Robinson as the Golder character, now called "George Constantin."
The novel David Golder was re-issued following the popularity of Némirovsky's Suite Française, written while she was in hiding in France during WWII and acclaimed as her masterpiece after it was discovered in 2004.