Cast & Crew
C. Aubrey Smith
In Frankfurt, which, in 1780, is part of Prussia, Jews are forbidden to learn trades, to farm or to leave "Jew Street" after sundown. When the tax collector comes to the shrewd money changer Mayer Rothschild and demands 20,000 gulden, a higher tax than the best merchant in the city is charged, Rothschild's son Nathan helps his father trick the collector, who leaves after accepting a 5,000 gulden bribe. However, when Rothschild learns that the man who was to bring him 10,000 gulden from Hamburg has been waylaid and robbed by tax agents, he rages against the plight of the Jews and collapses. On his deathbed, Rothschild advises his five sons that because money sent by coach between countries is often lost, they each should start a banking business in a different country and remain united. He admonishes them to remember the ghetto and tells them that nothing will bring them happiness until their people have equality, respect and dignity. Thirty-two years later, after Napoleon has overrun Europe, Nathan, in London, agrees to a petition brought by Captain Fitzroy, envoy from the Duke of Wellington, to allow his brothers in Vienna, Naples, Paris and Frankfurt to loan money to stop Napoleon. After Napoleon is defeated, Fitzroy and Nathan's daughter Julie plan to marry, and although Nathan would prefer that Julie marry a Jew, he gives his consent because he believes that the world is changing. Wellington, in gratitude, gives Nathan secret information regarding a loan needed by France to recover from the war. Knowing that the loan will make the Rothschilds the most powerful banking house in Europe, Nathan is greatly disturbed when an Allied Council, led by the virulent anti-Semite Count Ledrantz, refuses Nathan's bid even though his is the best and gives the loan to one of his rivals, who, with the representatives of the council, plans to offer a bond to the public to pay for the loan. Furious, Nathan orders Julie to give up Fitzroy and sends her to Frankfurt. After Nathan purchases a previous government bond and drives its cost far below that at which the council members plan to sell theirs, he threatens to offer it to the public at the low cost and thus forces the council members to sell their bond to him. In response, Ledrantz sets off anti-Semitic riots throughout Prussia. Nathan visits Frankfurt, and although he orders the visiting Fitzroy to stay away from Julie, she sneaks out at night and confesses her love. She refuses, however, to marry Fitzroy without her father's consent. When Ledrantz learns that Nathan is in Frankfurt, he issues orders for him to be arrested should he try to leave. After Napoleon escapes from Elba, where he had been imprisoned, the French rally behind him. Ledrantz is then forced to visit Nathan at his home in the Jewish ghetto to persuade him not to grant Napoleon a loan, and he agrees to accept Nathan's terms that the Jews be given the same freedom, respect and dignity as other people have. When Nathan sees Fitzroy, who is about to join Wellington, with Julie, he promises the captain that if he survives the fighting, they can marry. On March 22, 1815, Napoleon reaches Paris. Soon King Louis has fled, and all Europe has become mobilized. In June, after a number of victories by Napoleon, the stock exchange in London goes through a panic, and rumors circulate that it may close. To prevent the closing, which would mean the collapse of English credit, Nathan stubbornly continues to buy amid rumors of Wellington's defeat, until the war ends with Wellington's victory at Waterloo. Sometime later, Julie and Fitzroy are reunited, and Nathan is made a baron by the King of England, who expresses the country's gratitude to this "adopted" son whose generosity and courage brought victory and peace to England.
C. Aubrey Smith
Horace Claude Cooper
George Offerman Jr.
Bobbie La Manche
Arthur De Ravenne
E. H. Calvert
Maude T. Howell
Maude T. Howell
L. V. Johnson
Edward P. Lambert
V. L. Mcfadden
Joseph M. Schenck
United Costumers, Inc.
Darryl F. Zanuck
The House of Rothschild
The story of the creation and rise of Europe's most powerful banking establishment and the five brothers who guided it to international success from their separate cities of operation in Frankfort, Paris, London, Naples and Vienna was a fascinating topic for Depression era audiences who were curious about the rich and powerful. Arliss found the story of the Rothschild family an irresistible screen subject as well but for different reasons; he saw the family's struggle from their early years of abject poverty to their legacy of owning the largest private fortune in the world as an indictment of anti-Semitism but also as an inspirational tale of perseverance and faith.
Arliss first became interested in the project when he read George Hembert Westley's play Rothschild in 1931 and urged Warner Bros., where he was under contract, to buy it. The studio complied but did nothing with the property and when Arliss completed his contract with Warner Bros., he signed a new contract with 20th Century Fox, where he convinced studio mogul Darryl Zanuck to purchase Rothschild from his former studio. Although Nunnally Johnson is credited with the screenplay for The House of Rothschild, an early draft of the script was penned by Maude T. Howell and Sam Mintz (both uncredited) and it was this version for which Arliss provided some additional notes and recommendations for the narrative. He suggested adding a prologue to the story in which the Rothschild family is shown being subjected to prejudice and unjust laws in the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt where they are forbidden to venture out of their district and must observe daily curfews. Besides fleshing out the character of Mayer Rothschild, who mapped out a banking strategy for his sons on his deathbed, the screenwriters also used the character of Count Ledrantz (played by Boris Karloff) as a symbol of the anti-Semitic hatred that created Jewish ghettos and was on the rise again in the world, especially in Germany.
Certainly anyone seeing The House of Rothschild in 1934 would have noted the film's parallels between the persecution and restrictions that the Rothschild family had to overcome and what was happening to the Jews of Europe as Hitler rose to power. Yet The House of Rothschild is primarily a biographical portrait of the family with the central focus on Nathan (Arliss), whose intelligence and political cunning manages to outwit his rivals in the world of international finance. The film may be no timeless classic; Arliss's acting style is theatrical and unsubtle by contemporary standards, the Rothschild family is idealized for the sake of the film's agenda and there is a romantic subplot involving the Rothschild's daughter Julie (Loretta Young) and a gentile (Robert Young) that adds little to the story's momentum. Still, The House of Rothschild is a handsomely mounted character study and a typical example of the sort of potentially controversial subject matter that producer Darryl Zanuck liked to address in popular entertainments. Among his other triumphs in this area are I Am a Fugitive on a Chain Gang (1932), made while he was still at Warner Bros., The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Gentleman's Agreement (1947), which was another film about anti-Semitism, and Pinky (1949).
While The House of Rothschild was designed as a showcase for Arliss's talents, the film also offered memorable supporting roles to some of Hollywood's finest supporting players such as C. Aubrey Smith as the Duke of Wellington, Helen Westley as Gudula Rothschild, Reginald Owen as Herries, Alan Mowbray as Prince Metternich, Florence Arliss (the wife of George Arliss) as Hannah Rothschild and Boris Karloff as Baron Ledrantz. Karloff had already established himself as a major horror star with the boxoffice successes of I>Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932) but he wanted to avoid typecasting and prove he was capable of other roles. The House of Rothschild gave him the opportunity to play a villainous character without the aid of horror makeup and suitably impressed the film's star. Arliss later stated in his autobiography, "Most of the actors I knew well; I had either met them on the screen or played with them on the stage. The only one I had never met was the terrible Boris Karloff - the professional bogeyman. I was therefore considerably surprised to find him one of the most retiring and gentle gentlemen it has ever been my lot to meet."
The House of Rothschild is also notable for its final sequence, shot in three-strip Technicolor, in which Nathan Rothschild is made a baron by the King of England after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. Most existing prints of the film only present the sequence in black and white but the TCM version will feature the original Technicolor version. According to some sources, The House of Rothschild was not banned in Germany as expected. Instead Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, had the film re-edited to depict the Rothschilds in a negative light, reinforcing all of the racial stereotypes that would later make German director Veit Harlan's Jud Suss (1940) the most notorious example of this in the cinema of propaganda.
When the film opened in theatres, most major film critics were glowing in their reviews. Mordant Hall of The New York Times wrote, "Although the producers juggle with certain dates and here and there a name is changed, the story runs along smoothly and swiftly, clinging substantially to facts in the major points. Where there are embellished bits of history, it is all so well done that it makes a grand show. In fact the picture is engrossing throughout. The dialogue is smart and often witty and the direction and staging are excellent...Not only does Mr. Arliss's work here excel that which he has done in any other picture, but most of the other roles are acted expertly. Boris Karloff, without any facial disguise, appears to advantage as the sinister Baron Ledrantz." And Variety called it, "A fine picture on all counts in the acting, writing, and directing. It handles the delicate subject of anti-semitism with tact and restraint." The film would go on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture but lost to It Happened One Night.
During the past two centuries, the Rothschild family has frequently been linked to conspiracy theories and claims that the banking institution belongs to the Illuminati, a shadowy group that is believed to be the masterminds behind events that will establish a New World Order. Whether there is any truth to this is debatable but certainly a more objective and historically accurate film biography of the Rothschilds would be welcome. In the meantime, The House of Rothschild is well worth seeing as an old-fashioned but compelling example of a big budget studio biopic.
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck
Director: Alfred Werker; Sidney Lanfield (uncredited)
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson (screenplay); George Hembert Westley (play "Rothschild"); George Arliss, Maude T. Howell, Sam Mintz (contributing writer (uncredited))
Cinematography: Peverell Marley
Art Direction: Richard Day
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Barbara McLean, Allen McNeil
Cast: George Arliss (Mayer Rothschild/Nathan Rothschild), Boris Karloff (Count Ledrantz), Loretta Young (Julie Rothschild), Robert Young (Capt. Fitzroy), C. Aubrey Smith (Duke of Wellington), Arthur Byron (Baring), Helen Westley (Gudula Rothschild), Reginald Owen (Herries), Florence Arliss (Hannah Rothschild), Alan Mowbray (Prince Metternich).
by Jeff Stafford
Karloff: The Man, The Monster, The Movies by Denis Gifford (Curtis Books).
The House of Rothschild
The working titles of this film were Rothschild and The Great Rothschilds. According to a New York Times article, George Arliss planned to make a film based on the play in 1931, when playwright George Hembert Westley, a Boston newspaper man, sent him a copy. Arliss, then on contract to Warner Bros., urged the studio to buy it, and although they complied, the property was shelved for two years. After Arliss' contract with Warner Bros. expired, he joined Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century and convinced Zanuck to purchase the property, which Warner Bros. sold for the price they paid for it. According to Arliss, the original play centered around "Nathan Rothschild" and contained no scenes involving "Nathan's" father "Mayer." According to production files in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at UCLA Theater Arts Library, Arliss wrote fourteen pages of suggestions concerning an early script outline by Maude T. Howell and Sam Mintz and noted, "I do not wish Howell's and Mintz's hands to be tied in any way to this scenario of mine, I only desire that you [i.e. Zanuck] should take the best there is in it." In her next outline, Howell wrote to Zanuck, "I have followed G. A.'s suggestions as closely as possible. As he wished to emphasize the anti-Jewish feeling, I have made Ledrantz [the anti-Semitic count] more important."
According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, in September 1933, Zanuck was negotiating with John Blystone to direct the film. The production file in the Produced Scripts Collection gives the following additional production information: assistant director Ben Silvey directed wardrobe and makeup tests; Harry Perry shot some tests directed by Silvey; Ray Rennahan shot a Technicolor test; Darryl Zanuck's sheep dog appeared in the film; some scenes were shot at the "Cavalcade Street" location on the Fox Westwood lot; and David Torrence was originally cast as the Prime Minister. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item from December 29, 1933, Sidney Lanfield substituted for director Alfred Werker during Werker's illness.
This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and placed second on Film Daily's list of Ten Best Pictures of 1934, based on a nationwide poll of exhibitors. New York Times in their review, commented, "Although the producers juggle with certain dates and here and there a name is changed, the story runs along smoothly and swiftly, clinging substantially to facts in the major points." The Motion Picture Herald reviewer remarked that the film's preview "received the most enthusiastic ovation this writer has heard in any theatre." Several reviewers pointed out parallels between the scenes in the film depicting anti-Semetic events and the current persecution of the Jews in Germany. According to a Daily Variety news item, this was Arliss' first film to be shown in Italy. In its Milan showing, the film received sustained applause, and Daily Variety attributed its success there to the city's anti-Nazi feeling. In 1940, Ufa in Germany produced an anti-Semitic film entitled Die Rothschilds, which was directed by Erich Waschneck and starred Carl Kuhlmann. A 1933 French film entitled Rothschild, rather than being about the historical figure, is the story of a tramp who is made the director of a failing bank because his name happens to be Rothschild.